Crossing the Taiwan Strait: Jianhai Bi Examines China-Taiwan Relations in Light of Recent Visits to the Mainland by Taiwanese Opposition Leaders

By Bi, Jianhai | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview

Crossing the Taiwan Strait: Jianhai Bi Examines China-Taiwan Relations in Light of Recent Visits to the Mainland by Taiwanese Opposition Leaders


Bi, Jianhai, New Zealand International Review


In recent weeks, Lien Chan, Chairman of the China Kuomintang (KMT), and James Soong, Chairman of the People First Party (PFP), in Taiwan made historic trips to mainland China and held landmark talks with Hu Jintao, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. The Lien and Soong visits, as well as the Lien-Hu and Soong-Hu meetings, have been widely reported in the international press as major events bearing on relations across the Taiwan Strait. Have they contributed to an improvement of relations between the two sides of the Strait? Has Beijing's Taiwan policy initiative played a role in breaking the political deadlock between the two sides? What is the prospect of the development of cross-Strait relations in the new situation?

After the Lien-Hu meeting, the two sides published a party-to-party communique that acknowledged the 1992 consensus on 'One China'. (1) They called for the resumption of cross-Strait negotiations based on the 1992 consensus, a peace treaty, consultations on Taiwan's participation in international activities, and the establishment of a platform for party-to-party contact.

The two sides vowed to increase economic ties. Beijing announced that it would lift restrictions on mainland tourists visiting the island and scrap tariffs on shipments of certain fruits from it. Dramatically, Beijing announced its offer of two pandas to Taiwan as a goodwill gesture.

After the Soong-Hu meeting, the two parties, the Chinese Communist Party and the PFP, also signed a joint communique. They agreed that cross Strait peace talks should be conducted on the basis of the '1992 consensus'. To facilitate the resumption of cross-Strait talks and end the political stalemate, the communique proposed a new formula of 'two sides, one China' to define cross-Strait relations.

The two sides vowed to join efforts to promote overall economic, trade and personnel exchanges. In particular, they pledged to push for talks to establish a cross-Strait free trade zone and to start regular direct flights between the two sides next year.

In the meantime, Beijing announced the offer of more conveniences to Taiwanese by facilitating their cross-Strait trips, study and employment on the mainland.

Political breakthrough

The Lien and Soong visits represented a symbolic end to a long-standing cross-Strait feud. They are undeniably a political breakthrough for both sides. Their bold journeys for peace to mainland China have been widely viewed as a brave move in trying to improve cross-Taiwan Strait relations. Having splintered from the KMT, the PFP is like the KMT and Soong is a former KMT official. On this issue the PFP and the KMT have made a strategic partnership. No leader of the KMT has visited the mainland since 1949, when the party fled from the mainland to Taiwan.

Thus the Lien and Soong visits are of great historic significance. They may herald an easing of tensions. The Lien-Hu and Soong-Hu meetings initiated direct dialogue between the ruling party in mainland China and the major opposition parties in Taiwan. The direct dialogue is an important step in strengthening communication and understanding between the two sides. Therefore, the Lien and Soong visits as well as the Lien-Hu and Soong-Hu meetings have unleashed a process of engagement that holds out the promise of peace, stability and increased economic ties.

Independence constraint

The Lien and Soong visits as well as the Lien-Hu and Soong-Hu meetings have had an impact upon the ruling pro-independence DPP (Democratic Progressive Party), putting pressure on President Chen Shui-bian to

use a softer line on Beijing. The visits and meetings have placed a constraint on the Taiwan independence movement. In the two communiques, the KMT and PFP together with the Chinese Communist Party jointly stated that they oppose any activities aiming at formal independence of the island and constitutional changes through referendum. …

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