The Nationalist Party on Taiwan plans an offensive of peaceful persuasion against its bitter communist foe on mainland China, using the weapons of democracy and free enterprise. Emboldened by democratic reform and four decades of swift economic growth on its island refuge, the party leadership pledged Friday to spread Taiwan's wealth and nascent freedoms among the 1 billion Chinese across the Formosa Strait.
Gathering at their 13th National Congress, Nationalist leaders dropped the bellicose language that has characterized their mainland policy since they fled to the island in 1949.
In the last 38 years the rallying slogan for Nationalist Party (Kuomingtang) policy toward the mainland has evolved from ``counterattack'' to ``recovery,'' to the new call for ``reunification.''
``Now we are saying we will unify China, probably with a greater percentage of peaceful means rather than military means,'' says party spokesman Raymond Tai.
The Nationalists will still uphold a ``three nos policy:'' no official contact, negotiation, or compromise with China.
But for the first time they plan a comprehensive strategy that exploits the significant propaganda value of their prospering citizenry.
Although the likelihood that the party will recover the mainland is as remote as when civil war hostilities ended, recent events have opened opportunities for greater national influence on China.
The Nationalists have loosened a strict ban on travel to the mainland and since last fall some 100,000 islanders have crossed the Strait to see their relatives.
Government officials acknowledge that many citizens have visited the mainland on the sly, also acting as unofficial ambassadors for a system that has made them about 20 times richer than mainlanders.
Under the new policy, Taiwan will continue mail service across the Strait through Hong Kong and allow mainlanders to visit Taiwan for the funerals of relatives. It will promote its ideals among the tens of thousands of mainlander students and scholars overseas.
Taipei will still bar direct trade and investment in China. Acknowledging that the government cannot control indirect trade, it now condones the importation of raw materials from China through a third country.
But many party delegates Saturday denounced the new policy for not posing a stronger challenge to Peking. They said it lacked boldness and relied on rousing rhetoric instead of concrete measures.
The delegates at three committee meetings chided the party leadership for its fear of mainland manipulation and urged the party to lift restrictions on trade and two-way visits.
In a decade of reform, Peking has made the mainland more fertile ground for Nationalist influence. Peking has softened its extreme, doctrinaire economic policies and warmed to the free-market pragmatism behind Taiwan's swift growth. This has created a hybrid, socialist-market economy.
While barring rival political groups, the communists tolerate a limited degree of free enterprise and, of importance for Taiwan, try to lure investment for the rapid development of China's coast.
Peking's official newspaper People's Daily said Thursday, ``We always maintain that the two sides should develop trade, help supply each others' needs, and undertake economic exchanges to promote early reunification.''
Indirect trade through Hong Kong between China and Taiwan jumped 59 percent last year compared to the 1986 figure, reaching $1.51 billion.
While free of the hostile wording of the past, the new policy is rife with the vague, quixotic phrases that have been the trademark of Nationalist policy toward the mainland.
For example, the new initiative pledges to promote free enterprise, rural reforms that return land to tillers, and private ownership of the mainland.
Delegates noted that the strategy statement fails to mention how the party will accomplish these monumental tasks.
Proposing the sort of gutsy measure many delegates said is crucial to Taiwan's effort to reshape China, Progressive Party delegate Jaw Shau-Kong said the party should overcome fears of mainland subversion and allow 2,000 mainlanders a year to visit Taiwan.
Party leaders said they expect the Congress tomorrow to formally endorse the policy as handed down by the leadership.