Old China Rivals Make Peace

Fifty-five-and-a-half years after the end of the Chinese Civil War, the principal antagonists of that conflict, the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or ?????) and the Chinese Communist Party (Gongchandang or ?????), have finally resumed contact at an official level, as Lien Chan (??) paid a visit to the mainland. What his intentions may be have yet to play out, but he did contact President Chen Shui-bian (???) before his departure. China Times reports (in Chinese) that Lien emphasized that, whatever citizens may contribute toward conciliation, it is finally up to governments to see things through:

Chinese Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan expressed, after today's meeting with Hu Jintao, that what citizens can do on their own initiatives in regard to bettering cross-strait relations is limited, and that even if these cross-strait talks bear some fruit, only government approval, support, and initiative can realize them.
Commentaries about the intent behind Lien's visit have been flying all over, with supporters claiming that Lien is trying to reduce tensions, while critics comment that he is trying to undermine President Chen's policies and power. For now, I'll just say that it's something slightly less benign than the first, and less sinister than the latter.

They say that all politics is local; and despite the authoritarian past of the KMT, leaders realize that they cannot simply wave a wand and hope to regain power. In order to recapture the Presidency, they must prove worthy. Indeed, it is speculated that the successive Chen victories are not so much an endorsement of his policies, but the result of infighting among the so-called "outsiders" (waishengren or ???), most notably Lien and James Soong (???) in 2000. Indeed, the opposition between the executive and legislative branches of government had led to gridlock, and probably best explains the slight shift away from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP or ???) in the 2004 Legislative Yuan elections. In other words, whereas voters are willing to give the new kid on the block a shot, if there are no results, and the other person has a better proposal, then votes will switch.

Lien seems to me to be trying to accomplish three things:

  1. Persuade the Party: He hopes to demonstrate that he has the respect and clout to be a credible leader of the KMT going forward.
  2. Persuade the Voters: By visiting the mainland and holding successful talks with China, he hopes to show himself to be a statesman worthy of consideration for the next presidential elections. If he can get any concessions from China, even on mundane matters such as business contract enforcement and protections for Taiwanese investors, he'll have proven a lot.
  3. Persuade the World: If the talks are successful, he can jockey for attention from the United States, which has been reluctant to support President Chen because of the gambles he's taken with Taiwan's security. The US would prefer to see a leader that doesn't inflame tensions, but who will also not roll over and play dead at the PRC's whim.

Indeed, some concessions may be on the way. As the Taipei Times reports, Beijing is recognizing that any rapport with Lien would be of a party-to-party nature, and is mulling talks with the DPP:

According to a Hong Kong media report on Wednesday, Sun Yafu (???), the deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China's State Council, said China recognizes that discussions with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (??) are of a party-to-party nature, and that discussions with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) may be possible.

During a talk on Wednesday at Peking University, Sun said that any consensus reached with Lien, or any document signed, would take into consideration legal ramifications in Taiwan.

A report in the pro-China Hong Kong daily Wen Wei Po quoted Sun as saying that China had taken note of Taiwan's response -- the threat of legal proceedings -- to KMT Vice Chairman Chiang Pin-kun's (???) visit, and since then had moved to better understand the legal situation in Taiwan.

He added that any agreement with Lien would be expressed in the "most suitable form" and that China "still hoped to have more contact with the Democratic Progressive Party."
However, President Chen is no political slouch either. Taiwan News Online reports that, as Lien has been talking about his vision for a peaceful reunification, Chen has retrained some light on what voters can expect with the usual Chinese offer of "one country, two systems":
President Chen Shui-bian (???) yesterday declared that the record of nearly eight years of China's "one country, two systems" formula in Hong Kong and Macau had only served to erode judicial autonomy, individual freedom, social order, public administration and economic development in the two territories.

Speaking to a delegation from the "Hong Kong and Macau Taiwanese Association," the president also stated that no process of "political integration" across the Taiwan Strait could begin until the Chinese Communist Party-ruled People's Republic of China had realized genuine democratic elections, a depoliticized military and freedom of speech and religion.

The president reaffirmed his administration's concern for the rights and interests of the over 40,000 Republic of China citizens residing in Hong Kong and Macau, especially in the wake of the transformation of the two former colonies into "special administrative zones" of the PRC in July 1997 and December 1998, respectively.

Therefore, Chen related that the Taiwan government had formed a "Hong Kong Affairs Bureau" and a "Macau Affairs Department" under the Mainland Affairs Council, and had set up related office offices at the Hong Kong International Airport and initiated visa granting operations in Macau that include the provision of landing visas or application for visas through the Internet.
To be sure, the abuses have come under focus, not least of all from the United Kingdom, which still keeps an eye on the former British Crown Colony. The latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong is available from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office homepage. Thus it is greatly in Chen's interests to show that he does, in fact, care not just about independence for independence's sake, but for the sake of retaining to citizens of the Republic of China the liberties that they have come to take for granted, which would undoubtedly be withdrawn by the CCP (which had promised the same guarantees to Hong Kong in 1997). In this manner he is also perhaps marching to the beat of US President George W. Bush's drumming, the call for the spread of democracy.

This trip, in short, is many things, but ultimately it is about local politics. The lines are being drawn for the 2008 elections.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds and Naruwan Formosa]

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