Date
21 August 2017
Ma Ying-jeou hopes to cement China ties to boost the Taiwan economy. Photo: Reuters
Ma Ying-jeou hopes to cement China ties to boost the Taiwan economy. Photo: Reuters

POLICY WATCH: Bridging the cross-strait trust deficit

Can China and Taiwan overcome mutual suspicions and build an institutional framework to improve ties with each other, while setting aside long-standing and contentious political issues? That is the question that is playing on minds of observers as a top Taiwan official prepares for a landmark visit to the mainland next month.

Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan’s minister in charge of China affairs, announced Tuesday that he will lead a delegation to China in February, in what would mark the first official contact between the two sides in six decades. During a four-day trip from Feb. 11, Wang will meet with his Chinese counterpart Zhang Zhijun and discuss issues such as setting up representative offices and cementing economic relations.

“The trip has crucial implications for further institutionalization of the ties between the two sides of the Straits,” Wang said at a media briefing in Taipei.

The meeting with Zhang, who is the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council, will take place in Nanjing in the eastern Jiangsu province. The high-level interaction will aim to create “a normal communication mechanism so as to avoid misunderstandings,” Wang said.

But the trip “will not touch on highly sensitive political issues,” media reports quoted him as saying.

China’s state news agency Xinhua quoted Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for nation’s Taiwan Affairs Office, as saying that the talks were “an important move” and that Beijing hopes they will be conducive to “joint promotion of future development of cross-strait ties”.

Some observers believe the formal talks between the two sides could test the water for the possibility of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou having a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during an APEC summit in Shanghai later this year.

While the relationship between China and Taiwan has been improving in recent years, they remain at loggerheads on key political issues. With Beijing refusing to rule out the use of force to take back the island and seek reunification, and strident anti-China voices in Taiwan, there is still a deep thread of antagonism between the two sides.   

Wang’s visit to China has, in fact, been a hot debate topic in Taiwan, with opposition politicians criticizing the Ma government over its approach to the mainland. In parliament, lawmakers adopted a resolution on Jan. 14 to limit Wang’s activities during his time in China, saying he should not sign any document or issue any joint statements that accept or echo Beijing’s claim of a “one China” framework or its opposition to Taiwanese independence.

Xi indicated last year that China won’t let Taiwan put off political talks indefinitely. Beijing hopes to use economic carrots to convince Taiwan people of the need to move closer to the mainland. Some observers, meanwhile, warn that poor performance of Ma in boosting the Taiwan economy and his pro-Beijing stance could result in the return of pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan’s 2016 presidential election. That could throw Beijing’s plans off gear.

Relations between China and Taiwan have improved since Kuomintang’s Ma took the reins of Taiwan in 2008, paving the way for resumption of direct flights, direct mail and direct shipping services between the two sides, among other things.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]

RC

EJ Insight writer

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