China's 'silent treatment' of Taiwan closer to ending
Taiwan's vice-president elect meets with mainland China about a cross-straits economic stimulus plan.
A landmark meeting Saturday between Taiwan's vice president-elect and China's president Hu Jintao has raised hopes for the first cross-strait talks in a decade. But analysts say many pitfalls lie ahead – and any breakthrough likely to be economic, not political.Skip to next paragraph
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One question had been whether China would engage Mr. Ma's government. Now, the answer is a clear "yes." By agreeing to meet Mr. Siew at the annual Boao Forum for Asia on Saturday, Mr. Hu signaled China's willingness to enter into dialogue with Taiwan's new government after eight years of "silent treatment."
Now begins a delicate diplomatic courtship – however awkward. When Siew stepped off his plane, a top Chinese official in charge of Taiwan affairs greeted him with open arms, reaching out for a hug. Siew responded stiffly, trying to pull back to a more formal handshake.
That captured the incoming government's ambivalence toward Beijing. They want to establish cordial ties without getting too close. Despite mutual support for better economic ties, the two differ on Taiwan's status. Beijing sees it as a part of Chinese territory awaiting unification; Ma and Siew think of "The Republic of China" (its formal name) as a sovereign state.
Still, the meeting signals a start to a more pragmatic chapter in those relations. "It suggests that there's enough goodwill on both sides to fudge difficult issues, and for the relationship to be put on a more even keel," said Steve Tsang, director of the Taiwan Studies Program at Oxford University.
Analysts expect Ma, who is set to take office May 20, to successfully push through much of his cross-strait economic agenda. That includes direct flights to China, permitting more Chinese tourists, and a relaxation of China-bound investment caps on businesses. He also wants a return to semiofficial cross-strait talks based on the "1992 consensus." That formula sees both sides recognizing the notion of one China, and agreeing to disagree on what exactly that means.