Taiwan 'Misunderstanding'
May Be Intentional
Global Intelligence Update
Following the Taiwanese earthquake, Chinese statements have dramatically decreased in militancy, emphasizing connections between the mainland and the island. Taiwan's response has been to propose the resumption of talks. There has been no Chinese comment on the response. It is likely that Taiwan has intentionally "misunderstood" recent Chinese signals. Whatever the case, a resumption of dialogue would benefit both sides.
Koo Chen-fu, Taiwan's unofficial envoy to China, tried Oct. 14 to call in a year-old promise by his Chinese counterpart to visit the island. Asserting that "goodwill and mutual trust" should power relations between Beijing and Taipei, Koo stated that differences in defining the status of Taiwan should not be allowed to hamper unofficial dialogue. Koo even proposed that he visit the mainland instead, due to his respect for Wang, who is older.
Koo's statements come on the heels of Chinese diplomatic posturing that emphasized the connections between the mainland and the Taiwanese people, despite the squabbling between the governments. While this is a fairly consistent theme in Chinese foreign policy, Taiwan's response is new. Koo seems to be intentionally misinterpreting China's post-Earthquake paternalism to give both countries an excuse to renew talks.
In the aftermath of Taiwan's earthquake, Chinese statements toward the island have softened to a somewhat paternal attitude. Though never backing down from the goal of reunification, Chinese government officials have repeatedly expressed their sympathy and connection to the people of Taiwan. On Oct. 14, the Chinese Red Cross emphasized the separation between earthquake aid and politics. To Beijing this was not a deviation, as it claims that Taiwan is a province; China would send aid and support to any of its provinces. It would logically follow that China should be open to Koo's gesture, since he is - at least, to Beijing - one of its citizens.
In the past week, the Chinese government has accepted nonofficial visits from several Taiwanese citizens, reinforcing its connection to the "province's" people. Yesterday, Jiang Zemin met a delegation of female entrepreneurs from Taiwan. Last week, a Taiwanese basketball star signed with a Chinese team. While neither of these are groundbreaking moves - as China sees all the above as its citizens - they have symbolic value. One of the first breakthroughs in U.S.-China relations came with an exchange of ping-pong teams.
Koo is the chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), an unofficial body authorized to handle cross-straits exchanges in the absence of official ties between the nations. Exactly a year ago, Koo made an historic visit to the mainland where he was received by Wang Daohan, the head of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and China's top envoy to Taiwan. In what was hailed as a major diplomatic move, Wang promised to reciprocate Koo's visit.
While it is possible that Koo's request was motivated by the one- year anniversary of Wang's promise, he appears to be interpreting China's recent statements as an invitation to renew talks. Both the SEF and ARATS are officially "private" institutions with no connections to their home governments. Unofficially, however, they are the main diplomatic channels between Beijing and Taipei, and are responsible for bilateral negotiations.
We believe that Koo is intentionally misinterpreting recent Chinese moves in an effort to re-establish a dialogue with the mainland. Continued talks between Beijing and Taipei are in Taiwan's interest, as Taiwan is unlikely to join the mainland and China is unlikely act militarily in the midst of "normal" relations. Lurking in the background is the Dec. 19 handover of Macau from Portugal to China. After that, the only piece of China still not unified will be Taiwan. China has made it clear that after Macau is restored to the nation, it will focus its attention on Taiwan. Therefore, increased Chinese ties and improved relationships are in Taiwan's interest.
This intentional "misunderstanding" may elicit a Chinese response, as negotiations work to Beijing's benefit as well. While the possibility of eventual unification through negotiations is slim, military action, even against symbolic targets like Taiwan's outlying islands, will bring down a chorus of international criticism. The reactions may impede Beijing's economic ties or its diplomatic goals, like joining the World Trade Organization. The alternative, to play along with Taiwan's "mistake," holds benefits for both sides.
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