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    Greater China
     Apr 5, 2005
Strange cross-Taiwan Strait bedfellows
By Francesco Sisci

BEIJING - The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has never stood in an election, so can it now learn to take part in a democratic process and, of course, emerge the victor? This is the real prize and was the challenge in Nanjing last week in the meeting between Jia Qinglin, chairman of China's People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and a delegation of Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) headed by its chairman Lien Chan, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's main rival.

Both Lian Chan and Beijing organized the meeting for the interests of the Taiwanese voters. The message: We will work hand in hand for the welfare of China and Taiwan. We shall bring stability to the region and the island. Moreover, both Lian Chan and Jia Qinglin tried to show that the relationship is one of equals: Jia is not superior to Lian or vice versa.

Beijing's choice of Jia to meet with the KMT delegation was wise. He deals with elements who are not foreigners and who are not in the Communist Party, though they may have leftist and pro-mainland leanings. Jia was also chosen to represent the CCP at the funeral of Zhao Ziyang, the party secretary ousted because of his support to the Tiananmen protesters. Jia had also been party secretary in Fujian, the province speaking minanyu, the same dialect as that of many people on Taiwan.

The Beijing papers marked the meeting as "historic", and tried to give a new, positive spin to the relationship with the island, which has been marred by the mainland's recent approval of the controversial Anti-Secession Law, authorizing China to use "non-peaceful means" if necessary should Taiwan move decisively toward independence.

According to Beijing, China passed the law, in a way, to put the onus of forcing the responsibility for any violence on Taipei. Then, after turning the tables, Beijing wanted to show that there are people in Taiwan willing to talk to China's leadership. Earlier, China had been a silent presence in Taiwan's political process. Different parties tried to lure and influence Beijing, interpreting China's utterances in various ways. Now the KMT can claim that it knows what Beijing really means - and convey it to the Taiwan public.

KMT's main competitor, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), can't claim to have the same access to Beijing, and thus its interpretation of CCP intentions would be de facto weaker than the KMT's. Of course some people can claim that any way you look at it, the CCP is bad, it is deceitful, and there is no need to hold discussions with it. But except for some very ideologically driven people, middle-ground, pragmatic voters in Taiwan now have one more reason to listen more carefully to the KMT than to the DPP when it comes to issues involving Beijing.

The visit of the KMT delegation to China last week is a political card, and much depends on how the CCP - and more so the KMT - will play it, but it definitely could be of some advantage. For this visit to have positive results, the KMT should not be described or viewed as a running dog of the CCP - an image both the CCP and the KMT have been careful not to convey.

The visit also appears to convey new attention on Beijing's part to the democratic process. As a confirmation of this at least perceived (by some) new sensibility, Beijing demoted (though technically promoted) Hong Kong's unpopular chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and promoted his successor and chief administrator Donald Tsang. Although the process was not open or subject to a popular election, it was intended to reveal that Beijing pays attention to the popular sentiment of the Hong Kong people who shouted Tung out of office. It also was intended to reveal that it wanted at least a stopgap solution in Hong Kong to get the selection of the territory's new chief executive handled swiftly. This would avoid the situation of the Hong Kong selection of chief executive not coinciding with the Communist Party Congress in 2007.

The coincidence of Tung's selection with the party meeting in 2002 helped to confirm Tung, because people in Beijing were too busy with their own agenda to pay too much attention to Hong Kong. The decision to replace Tung was also encouraged by the success in the elections in Hong Kong last year, when the Communist Party-backed candidates performed much better than anticipated. This emboldened people in Beijing: the competition from the Hong Kong democrats could be resisted and won through democratic process.

All these signs still appear to fall very short of a commitment to a democratic process, but are nevertheless signs of a new attention that should not be overlooked. In a way, through a relationship that could grow closer with the KMT, the CCP could learn more and better about what happens during a democratic election. This knowledge could be precious in the future.

Moreover, these mainland ties with the KMT could help promote the ideas of political transformation in China, possibly better than a confrontational attitude imposing on Beijing what it considers a sort of blackmail, first democratize then talk of reunification.

It may appear strange that two parties that were at war for decades are now closer to each other than in 70 years. If the signs are right, this could be telling not of how much the KMT has changed in the past years, but of how much the CCP is willing to change in the future.

Francesco Sisci is the director of the Institute of Italian Culture in Beijing. This article represents his views alone and not those of the institute.

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(Apr 5, '05)

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(Apr 2, '05)

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(Feb 26, '05)


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