Cross-Strait Relations Progress with Difficulty
Cross-strait negotiations between mainland China and Taiwan continue to follow a stop-and-go process. Whether it is cross-strait direct air links or allowing Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, the two issues remain a sticking point. In an interview with Reuters recently, Joseph Wu, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), said that the establishment of direct cross-strait air links would be unlikely within the next two years. What this means is that before President Chen Shuibian's term of office ends in 2008, there will be little chance for direct flights from China to Taiwan. What factors cause cross-strait negotiations to falter? What impact does Beijing have on Taiwan through its continued support and favor of Taiwan's diplomatic allies? The Epoch Times editor Zhou Lei interviewed MAC Chairman Joseph Wu during his unofficial trip to Europe.
The Epoch Times: It's nice to meet you Chairman Wu. Cross-strait negotiations impress outsiders from the standpoint that both sides have expressed a desire to establish normal economic and trading relations. The actual negotiations, however, are surrounded by considerable drawbacks. For example, the negotiations over cross-strait direct air links seems to progress with great difficulty. Could you please tell us the extent to which these negotiations have developed?
Joseph Wu: On August 15, 2003, the Mainland Affairs Council had already submitted a report evaluating the situation. After the release of this report, it was officially announced that cross-strait direct air links was a goal that the Taiwanese government hoped to achieve. Yet, after the release of this report, we saw mainland China's reaction to it: If Taiwan desired to negotiate direct air links with mainland China, Taiwan should first accept the “One-China” principle. This way, the cross-strait route would be defined as domestic. These political barriers are the main obstacle to further cross-strait negotiations. To open these negotiations on solid footing, mainland China should first abandon these political premises and accordingly, remove these political barriers. On July 27 and 28, 2006, Taiwan held the Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development, during which the issue of cross-strait direct air links provoked a fierce debate among members of all political parties involved. After much discussion, those present reached a consensus that negotiations on aviation rights should be conducted on equal footing and that agreements on bilateral traffic rights should be signed only when based on the principles of equality and national security. With this, all Taiwanese political parties reached a unanimous agreement on cross-strait direct air links.
Nevertheless, before the Chinese government shows their willingness to negotiate direct air links with the Taiwanese government, we are quite willing to speed up the extension of cross-strait charter flights.
The Epoch Times: When will the Taiwanese government allow Chinese tourists unimpeded access to Taiwan?
Joseph Wu: Many members of the opposition party wrongly believe that the Taiwanese government is preventing Chinese tourists from visiting Taiwan. In reality, we implemented a policy for Chinese tourists on January 1, 2002, almost five years ago. Meanwhile, there have been many Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan via a third country. If Chinese tourists planned to travel directly from mainland China to Taiwan, the Taiwanese and Chinese governments would need to sit down at the negotiating table on equal footing in order to reach an agreement on the following issues: (1) Recognition of tourist identity, (2) handling of emergency affairs, (3) establishment of communication and connection channels for both sides as well as contracts and regulations on the tourist industry. I think that we will be able to enter into comprehensive negotiations with China pretty soon.
The Epoch Times: You just said that the Taiwanese government welcomes Chinese tourists to Taiwan. But you have also mentioned recognition of tourist identity as far as national security is concerned. Would you please talk about whether Taiwan has already considered and discussed concrete countermeasures?
Joseph Wu: National security is one factor we must take into consideration. We hope that the Chinese government could ensure that the Chinese tourists to Taiwan have a proper income, and that they will not take any part-time job during their stay in Taiwan. Both sides have reached an agreement on this matter. Mainland China has kept emphasizing that they also hope to prevent Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan from overstaying their visas
The Epoch Times: Would you comment on the current situation of cross-strait relationship development from the angle of international relations? We know China's National People's Congress dispatched an environment and resources delegation to Panama on November 27, but Panama has formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. What's your opinion on China's attempts to constantly show goodwill and friendship towards African and Latin American countries?
Joseph Wu: This is certainly a big challenge we are facing now. The Chinese communist regime has tried to utilize many techniques to blockade and suppress Taiwan on a constant basis. Since the Anti-Secession Law was passed on March 14, 2005, the regime's suppression of Taiwan in the international society has become almost unscrupulous. Senegal's termination of its diplomatic relations with Taiwan last October is just one example. The underlying reason for all of this is that the regime offered Senegal a huge amount of financial aid. On August 4, 2006, Chad, another country with official relations with Taiwan, also severed its relationship. The Chinese regime announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with Chad just prior to Premier Su's scheduled visit to Chad, which was a giant humiliation for Taiwan's political leaders. Maneuvering and coercing like this have aroused intense resentment among Taiwanese people.
In addition to all of this, Taiwan's participation in the activities of international organizations is severely interfered with by Beijing. This is an extremely negative influence that hinders the development of the cross-strait relationship.
The Epoch Times: The number of countries that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan is certainly a means with which to evaluate the performance of diplomacy. Under the current situation, has Taiwan started adjusting its diplomatic policy to reposition itself?
Joseph Wu: There are ongoing discussions concerning this topic in our agenda. Our foreign affairs minister has reviewed this with the Premier several times. Rather than using the number of countries we have diplomatic relations with to evaluate our achievements in the international community, we are focusing more on the degree of Taiwan's practical participation in international affairs. My limited experience tells me that we are pursuing diplomacy in the areas of human rights and democracy. Taiwan has established substantial relationships with the parliaments of many democratic countries. In return, organizations such as the “Friendship Group of Taiwan” and the “Congressional Taiwan Caucus” have been set up in the parliaments of more than forty countries to promote further relations with Taiwan. This is what we have devoted ourselves to. Taiwan is a democratic country and this has been held in high regard by all of the democratic countries around the world. This is also the best way to guarantee Taiwan's continued success in developing relations with other democratic countries.
The Epoch Times: The former head of Hong Kong's Department of Health, Mrs. Chan Fung Fu-Chun (Margaret Chan) was elected the Secretary General of the United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO). Since Mrs. Chan is backed by Beijing, does her election disillusion Taiwan's hope of participating in WHO activities as an observer? How do you think Mrs. Chan's appointment will affect Taiwan's participation in international affairs?
Joseph Wu: I think her election is making a lot of people concerned. This will certainly bring negative influences to Taiwan because the Beijing authorities have total control over Hong Kong; especially when issues relating to Taiwan are processed. Hong Kong's government has been obeying Beijing's instructions very cautiously. Therefore, we are truly worried about the impact of Mrs. Chan's election.
In 2003, Hong Kong was affected with SARS just like Taiwan. This painful lesson should have made Mrs. Chan realize that no country and no area should be expelled from the World Health Organization. Otherwise, this particular country or area will very likely become a loophole for disease control and containment once an epidemic breaks out. Now that Mrs. Chan has been elected Secretary General of the WHO, she should easily recognize this. Based on the experience learned during the SARS outbreak of 2003, she ought to proactively help Taiwan participate in the substantive work of the WHO. The Epoch Times: Thank you very much for taking the time for our interview.