Chinese President Hu Jintao calls for dialogue with Taiwan on the eve of his US trip was perhaps calculated to highlight China’s sensible approach in contrast to Chen Shuibian’s provocation on cross-strait ties.
Mr Hu promised that talks between China and Taiwan would be conducted on an “equal footing” but must be based on the 1992 consensus of the "one Chinaprinciple”. Although Hu refrained from naming Chen, he made it clear who he was referring to when he noted that "some people are ignoring the will of the people”, and added that independence advocates in DPP are “major threat” to cross-straits relations.
Despite the political impasse, trade between mainland China and Taiwan reached 91.2 billion US dollars in 2005. To sweeten the ground for the overture, China also announced a series of new trade concessions to Taiwan in a gesture aimed at speeding up reunification, including Chinese imports of four more varieties of Taiwanese fruit and canceling the import tax on 11 kinds of vegetables. These gestures are likely to please fisherman and farmers, a powerful lobby power base of President Chen’s party, especially in the face of an exceptionally bountiful harvest resulting in a surplus of produce.
However, Taiwan's ruling party has already rejected China's new peace overtures as strategies aimed at undermining the island's government. Chen Ching-chun, the parliamentary party whip of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said the new economic package had an "obvious" purpose and "it is aimed to undermine the power of the government ... it's a poison coated with sugar".
While President Chen is unlikely to take up Hu’s offer, his opposition counterparts are already in Beijing for talks. The former KMT leader, Lien Chan, has urged direct flights and expanded trade links between China and Taiwan. He is due to meet President Hu Jintao with a delegation of more than 100 Taiwanese opposition politicians and business people. Taiwan’s business sector is known to be pro-Beijing and may be the key to better relations between China and Taiwan. In 2005, 68,095 Taiwan-invested projects had been approved by the mainland with a contractual value of US$89.7 billion.
Some analysts have labeled China’s selective outreach as a “divide and conquer” strategy. Others called it the “soft approach”. This strategy may be working as included amongst Lien’s delegation are pro-unification business leaders, including Mr Chang Kuocheng, Chairman of Evergreen Marine Corporation and ally of Chen’s party Fubon financial holdings’ Daniel Tsai. Besides business people, China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) has worked with Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council to release regulations to encourage Chinese tourists to Taiwan and vice versa, thereby unleashing the enormous buying power of Chinese tourists in the island.
Beijing's overtures to Taiwan's opposition also add pressure and isolate President Chen Shui-bian, whose party is vying for formal independence for Taiwan. Beijingalso hopes to gain the upperhand in projecting a positive public image of initiating peace overtures. This aims to maintain the momentum created by the international uproar, especially in the US, of President Chen’s unilateral scrapping of the National Unification Council without prior consultation with its main ally.
China ups charm towards Taiwan (Straits Times, 17 April 2006)
China sets group rules to reassure Taiwan (Straits Times, 17 April 2006)
Chen’s party stung by China’s charm offensive (Straits Times, 17 April 2006)
China's Hu calls for dialogue with Taiwan (Channelnewsasia, 16 April 2006)
Taiwan President Chen hits out as opposition talks with China (Channelnewsasia, 14 April 2006)
Taiwan opposition in China talks (BBC, 14 April 2006)