China and Taiwan

Strait Talk

Uneasy cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan have dominated both local presses as tensions between the two continue to grow. After Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s initial olive-branch offering to the mainland following his election in March, he has repeatedly come under fire from the Beijing leadership, most recently for a “transit” stop in Los Angeles (Aug. 12) en route to a six-country Central American visit.

In an Aug. 10 special feature from Hong Kong’s official news agency, officials of the Chinese Embassy in the United States chastised Washington in advance of the visit, saying that by allowing the stopover, the U.S. government was “undoubtedly sending the wrong signal to Taiwan independence and separatist forces.”

President Jiang Zemin reiterated this dissatisfaction at the U.N. Millennium Summit in early September and urged the U.S. government to state “clearly” its support for China’s peaceful reunification, reported  Beijing’s state-run China Daily (Sept. 6). Jiang’s patience was clearly wearing thin as he asked rhetorically at a U.N. breakfast meeting, according to the reports, “Why has the Taiwan question not yet been resolved, even though China insists on the ‘one-China’ principle and the majority of countries, including the U.S., recognize that there is only one China?”

However, Chen has stated that reunification is not the only option for Taiwan.  Rather, there “could be two or three or countless different conclusions,” a Sept. 6 report in the liberal, pro-independence Taipei Times said. He emphasized that no one entity could unilaterally decide the future of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens.

Hsieh Chang-ting, chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), recently unveiled another interpretation of Taiwan’s international status. While the DPP’s platform since its establishment in 1986 has been to seek independence for the island, a Sept. 6 report in Taipei’s online Chinese-language China Times said that Hsieh had stated that Taiwan is “already independent and that it goes by the name the Republic of China.” The article said Hsieh hastened to add that, regarding the mainland, “the DPP maintains a cautious attitude, although we don’t wholly reject the idea of reunification.”

The centrist South China Morning Post of Hong Kong  mixed a degree of optimism for bilateral trade with acknowledgment of chronic political tension between the two historical rivals, saying that trade between the two sides has “flourished in recent years.” The Sept. 12 report cited a prediction by Fu Don-cheng, director of Taiwan’s economic affairs department, that “small-scale trade” with China “was in fact possible by the end of the year,” as evidence that Taiwan is seeking to ease the cross-strait political friction.