China, Taiwan ink trade and crime-fighting deals
The longtime rivals signed deals Sunday on boosting cross-strait flights, joint-crime fighting, and financial cooperation, but steered clear of politics.
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Mr. Lin, from Sun Yat-sen University, says he's heard concerns from many Taiwanese that the island's sovereignty is weakening. Some businessmen he spoke with even wondered if Taiwan will hold a presidential election in 2012 or not.Skip to next paragraph
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Such talk is likely overblown. Lin and others insist Ma won't enter political talks with Beijing, because that would be akin to political suicide. But Lin also warned that Ma was playing a dangerous game, and needed to work harder to forge domestic consensus on his China policy.
"He should be very careful in dealing with mainland China," said Lin. "China is a very tough negotiator, and they don't need to face opposition from within. They aren't divided, but we are."
Trade pact a lightning rod
The lightning rod now is Ma's proposed trade pact with China, or Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. The details remain vague, but such a pact would reduce cross-strait tariffs on a broad range of goods such as petrochemicals.
The government just released a poll showing that 60 percent agree that a pact like ECFA could make Taiwanese goods more competitive in the mainland market, among other benefits. But the poll itself immediately drew fire from all sides.
Pundits on a popular pro-independence talk show insisted only 10 percent actually understood what the ECFA was. And even pundits on the popular China-friendly talk show slammed the government for trumpeting a poll that supported its own policies.
In Nanjing Sunday, the two sides were mum on such a deal, saying only they would "continue to exchange views" on the issue. Instead, the agenda for the next round of talks – slated for the fall or end of this year in Taiwan – is decidedly humble: scrapping double taxation on businesses, fisheries cooperation, better inspection and quarantine rules for agricultural products. Peace talks, they aren't.
One test of whether détente can move beyond commercial issues will come in a matter of days, when Beijing decides whether to let Taiwan participate in the annual United Nations World Health Assembly as an observer. The Assembly runs from May 18 to 27.
The two sides have also floated military-to-military talks, and so-called "confidence-building measures." But Taiwan's defense ministry poured cold water on a recent report that the two sides militaries' would meet at a forum in Hawaii, saying the event would not be significant.
All of which shows that despite progress on economic ties, distrust remains high. The government-commissioned poll showed 41 percent of Taiwanese still think China has an "unfriendly" attitude toward the Taiwanese people, compared to 40 percent who think it's "friendly."
Still, Beijing appears happy with progress so far, and holds few illusions about how far talks can go.
"If we were idealists, we would hope to achieve much more, especially in political relations," says Shi Yinhong, of Beijing's Renmin University. "But we're not idealists, we're realists. We're satisfied with the progress so far, and we fully understand Ma Ying-jeou's political considerations – if we push Ma to quickly it could backfire."