Loose tongues in cross-strait relations

For Asia Times Online www.atimes.com

TAIPEI – A bigwig in Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party dropped a bombshell on his recent trip to China. In a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing watched by millions on Chinese TV, honorary KMT chairman Wu Poh-hsiung crafted the catchphrase “yi guo liang qu“, which literally translates as “one country, two areas”, to describe the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China.
After the meeting, a smiling Wu told reporters that he made the remark on behalf of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who is the current KMT chairman, and that this was the KMT’s official position. “Whatever I said here [in Beijing] was authorized by chairman Ma,” he said.
While unification-longing Chinese masses were delighted, giving credit for the apparent progress towards this goal to Hu’s approach of engaging the island with economic goodies, Taiwan’s political opposition was outraged.

The opposition sees Wu’s remark as the most recent of jointly-orchestrated Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and KMT plans to formally surrender Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), pointing to the “1992 consensus” the CCP and KMT agreed. (Under that verbal agreement, both sides recognize there is only one China and that both mainland China and Taiwan belong to the same China. However, both sides agree to verbally express the meaning of that one China according to their own individual definition).

Anti-unification voices also compare Wu’s catchphrase to Deng Xiaoping’s “one country, two systems”, suggesting the KMT is will for Taiwan to eventually share the fate of Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of the PRC.

The Beijing-friendly KMT government sees things differently, of course. They say Wu’s comment rests rock-solid on the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) constitution, and that nothing new was said.

“Former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung’s interpretation of the cross-strait status as ‘one country, two areas’ is in accordance with the Republic of China constitution, which states that the ROC encompasses Taiwan and mainland China,” said Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi. “In the constitution, ‘one China’ refers to the ROC, and the two areas refer to Taiwan and the mainland. The mainland is the ROC’s territory outside of Taiwan […].”

Premier Sean Chen put it even simpler. “In our opinion, Shanghai is still a city that belongs to the ROC. It is just that it is not under the effective control of the ROC government,” he said in the legislature in Taipei. Chen’s way of seeing things was greeted with a considerable amount of sarcastic laughter by opposition lawmakers.

However, when paging through Taiwanese legal texts and all sorts of regulations, the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan is indeed constantly described as that of two areas. The “Act Governing Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area” is the legal framework on the Taiwanese side for all cross-strait exchanges and touches everything from applications for exit permits for Taiwanese males of draft age to cross-strait labor contracts.

A short glimpse at Article 1 shows that there is no discrepancy between the KMT standpoint and what the act is all about: “This Act is specially enacted for the purposes of ensuring the security and public welfare in the Taiwan Area, regulating dealings between the peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and handling legal matters arising therefrom before national unification.”

And in Article 11 of the constitution, it’s “the Chinese mainland area” for China and “the free area” for Taiwan.

In an interview with Asia Times Online, Chen In-Chin, a professor at the National Central University’s Graduate Institute of Law and Government, shed light on what to make of Wu’s slogan and also Beijing’s reactions.

Chen began with emphasizing that when Wu said something to Hu along the lines of “our ROC constitution stipulates ‘yi guo liang qu‘”, the latter kept mum. “For, if Hu had picked that one up, it would have been equivalent to recognizing the ROC constitution. To Beijing, of course, the ROC no longer exists, Taiwan is not a state and mustn’t have a constitution. But President Ma Ying-jeou sells Hu’s silence as a show of goodwill nonetheless,” Chen said.

He then explained why the timing was chosen. He believes it has everything to do with political jockeying ahead of the CCP’s 18th National Congress scheduled for later this year. The recent high-profile removal of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai indicates that events surrounding the transition planned to take place at that congress have been getting a bit too heated for Hu’s taste lately.

“Hu helped Ma getting re-elected in January [allegedly by pressuring Taiwanese businesspeople active in China to speak out in Ma’s support, among other measures]. Now China itself stands shortly before a transition of power so that Mr Ma sent Mr Wu to help Mr Hu,” Chen said.

He said that it’s crucial for Hu at this sensitive stage to have his Taiwan policy look good, because otherwise he and his CCP faction would be vulnerable to attacks by hostile party wings. Days before Wu’s trip to China, cross-strait relations had for the first time under Ma turned somewhat sour after Taipei publicly criticized Beijing’s efforts to lure Taiwanese companies and individuals setting up businesses in China. This led Chinese officials, also for the first time, to subsequently chide the Ma administration for dragging its feet in cross-strait cooperation.

“Wu’s ‘yi guo liang qu‘ speech was taken by the Chinese people as a proof of Hu’s political accomplishment in regards to Taiwan and therefore strengthened him considerably,” Chen said. “If a former KMT chairman ceremonially proclaims via Chinese state TV station CCTV to the Chinese people that both Taiwan and China belong to one China, it moves the masses deeply,” Chen said.

He added that is important to understand that the separation of Taiwan from China is felt as a painful historic insult by the great majority of Chinese.

Taiwan’s opposition parties have since declared that they will call for mass rallies against “yi guo liang qu” on May 20, the day Ma will be inaugurated for his second and final presidential term. They say that no one in China nor internationally will buy the KMT’s logic, according to which the “one country” in “one country, two areas” stands for Taipei’s democratic China but not for Beijing’s communist one.

So far neglected in political commentary is whether Wu’s comments will heighten Chinese hopes of a quick unification only for these to be dashed if Taiwan’s next election brings an anti-unification government into power.

“The ROC constitution ditches the complex question of how the relationship between China and Taiwan should be defined,” Chen said. “But if Wu’s slogan is taken literally, it tells [the Chinese] that Taiwan is waiting to be absorbed without the Taiwanese consenting through a referendum.”

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