- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008




With the visit to Taiwan of a delegation led by Chen Yunlin, chairman of mainland China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) to meet with Chiang Ping-kung, chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), on November 3, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have established the pattern for institutionalized negotiations based on the principles of parity and reciprocity. This marks a new milestone in cross-strait relations, replacing confrontation with peaceful negotiation. More than a major event in the history of cross-strait relations, ARATS Chairman Chen’s visit to Taiwan has far-reaching implications for regional peace and stability.

Taiwan must consider in earnest its long-term relations with mainland China. Since taking office, President Ma Ying-jeou has framed the development of cross-strait relations in terms of four imperatives: we must squarely face reality; neither side should deny the other’s existence or legitimacy; the people’s welfare must be our top priority; and whatever actions are taken must be conducive to peace across the Taiwan Strait. The Ma administration has energetically promoted cross-strait conciliation and mutual trust on the basis of these dictums. The second round of Chiang-Chen Talks in Taipei signifies a major achievement in the two sides’ efforts to handle cross-strait relations in a pragmatic manner.

The second round of talks, conducted over the past few days, has a multidimensional significance. First, it exemplifies the principle of negotiations on an equal footing and non-denial of each other’s existence and legitimacy. Since they first made contact in the early 1990s, SEF and ARATS have held talks in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Beijing. ARATS Chairman Chen is the highest-ranking mainland Chinese representative to come to Taiwan for negotiations since 1949. This first-ever meeting of the heads of the SEF and ARATS in Taipei is a promising step in the right direction.

The just-concluded round of negotiations was conducted on the basis of parity, dignity,and reciprocity. In the course of negotiations, the ROC government never compromised the Republic of China’s sovereignty, and it remained steadfast in “putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people.” All criticisms to the effect that President Ma is subservient to the mainland are unfounded and untrue.

Second, the Chiang-Chen talks signify adherence to President Ma’s maxims of shelving disputes and cooperating to create a win-win situation. Taiwan and mainland China signed agreements on four major topics: direct maritime shipping; weekday charter flights and new direct air routes; postal links; and food safety. Increased cross-strait exchanges will enable people on both sides of the strait to enjoy the convenience and benefits made possible by a closer relationship, creating a win-win situation.

Meanwhile, Asia-Pacific has become the most lively region in global trade, and Taiwan, situated along key regional transportation routes, enjoys a strategic position in the global transport system. Direct cross-strait transportation links will enhance Taiwan’s economic environment, boost its business competitiveness, and attract foreign investments, giving it an edge in developing into a global operations hub.

The third significance of the talks is the international community’s affirmation of institutionalized dialogue across the Taiwan Strait. The recent improvement in cross-strait relations has greatly decreased the possibility of miscalculation and conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Reduced tension in the Taiwan Strait will be conducive to peaceful development in East Asia, and it has won a high degree of approval among members of the international community, including the United States, Japan, Australia and the European Union.

The successful conclusion of the second round of Chiang-Chen Talks marks a historic moment in the six-decade history of cross-strait relations. The results of the talks will not only help improve the economic well-being of the people on both sides, but also exert a decisive influence on stability and improvement of relations across the Taiwan Strait, as well as on overall regional security and peaceful development in East Asia.

At this juncture, only by replacing confrontation with dialogue, and hostility with exchanges, can bilateral relations in the Taiwan Strait be gradually normalized. In addition, we look forward to mainland China’s more positive and friendly accommodation of Taiwan’s need for meaningful participation in international organizations and for reasonable international space.

While from a broader historical perspective, the second Chiang-Chen Talks may seem a small step in the process of cross-strait negotiations, it nevertheless represents an important step in creating peace and co-prosperity across the Taiwan Strait.

Vanessa Shih is minister of the Government Information Office, Republic of China (Taiwan).

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