How deep is China-Taiwan thaw?
A Taiwan policy speech last week suggests an emerging generational split in Beijing's leadership.
(Page 2 of 2)
Yet while drawing increasingly closer economically to China, Taiwan has moved further away in its political identity. In the spring of 2000, as leader of the DPP party, Mr. Chen was elected president. The party had independence written into its constitution, and China took a hard-line position toward the election.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
China refused to recognize the DPP, disallowed officials to use President Chen's name in public, and continued to insist that only a "small handful" of disgruntled islanders were behind the DPP.
Yet a crucial election this past Dec. 1, when the DPP gained a stronghold in Taiwan's parliament, seemed to puncture illusions that Mr. Chen was a flash-in-the-pan president, or the DPP a fly-by-night party.
To observers of China, then, Qian's recent policy speech was widely seen as Beijing's response, after a virtual silence, to political changes in Taiwan.
Qian's gravitas, combined with the presence of Mr. Hu and Jiang's closest protégé, Zeng Qinghong, made it appear a first move by a new generation was underway into China's most sensitive issue: Taiwan.
Hu's ideas have been a mystery for many years, but backing Qian's speech suggests a progressive bent by the rumored future leader.
Qian's speech, moreover, seemed to create a glimmer of hope for future talks, not out of a new friendliness, but in a pragmatic recognition that - though Beijing may not like it - Taiwan's ruling party is a force to be reckoned with on the island.
"This is indeed a breakthrough," says Rick Baum, a China expert at UCLA, commenting earlier this week on Qian's speech. "It reflects Beijing's growing recognition that neither the DPP nor Chen Shui-bian are temporary aberrations ... but rather represent the genuine aspirations of a growing number of Taiwanese people."
China has long demanded that Taiwan agree to a "one-China principle" prior to any talks between the two sides. Taiwan has looked upon that formula as a nonstarter - since it requires the island to cede any right to choose its own status before talks begin.
Qian's speech, while affirming "one China," seemed to imply there might be ways for the two sides to engage in dialogue short of that precondition.
"The speech does not break with the 'one-China principle,' " says John Holden, president of the National Committee on US-China relations, "but it is careful not to specify exactly what Chen must do or say to move things forward.... I see some opportunities in the language ... [for Chen] to get back into some sort of dialogue with Beijing.
Yet this week's tempest in Beijing over Qian's speech shows a wide chasm between hardliners and moderates. In contrast with Qian's speech, for example, China this fall, in the wake of the Sept. 11 "war on terrorism," floated a very different rhetorical trial balloon - arguing that Taiwan's "separatism" represented a form of terrorism in the region.
Whether or not China is engineering a new era in relations with Taiwan, or is only filling the honey pot for President Bush's trip, as Beijing has often done with previous visiting US heads of state, was the question being asked in diplomatic circles until yesterday. Now, with an apparent Chinese backpedal, US officials are wondering just what the Taiwan policy is, and how strong those quarters are in Beijing that evidently want a different approach.