Hu's 'olive branch' breaks in
Taiwan By Ting-I Tsai
TAIPEI - At the height of the SARS (severe
acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in May 2003,
China's former representative to the United
Nations in Geneva, Sha Zukang, was asked by
Taiwanese reporters why China had again blocked
Taiwan's bid to join the World Health Organization
as an observer.
"Who cares about you?" he
responded, putting a final exclamation point on
another diplomatic victory for Beijing.
But four years later, China might be
finding that its hardline policy
had negative consequences.
President Hu Jintao appealed for a "peace
agreement" with Taiwan in his speech to the
Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's)17th National
Congress last week, it was not only rebuked by
politicians across party lines but also neglected
by the island's public.
In his speech, Hu,
officially offered to ink a "peace agreement" with
Taiwan as long as the island acknowledged the
"one-China policy", which means that there is only
one China and Taiwan is part of it. Furthermore,
he emphasized that any issues related to China's
sovereignty and territory should be decided by
"all of the Chinese, including Taiwanese".
Citing polls that concluded 85% of people
in Taiwan believed Taiwan's territory only
includes Taiwan, Kinmen, Penghu and Matzu, and
that 70% consider themselves as Taiwanese but not
Chinese, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian said
the CCP's 17th congress and Hu's speech showed the
CCP as "authoritarian", "repressive", and having
"no respect or feeling for people living in the
community of democracies, especially the 23
million people of Taiwan".
Even worse for
Beijing, Ma Ying-jeou, the presidential candidate
of Taiwan's opposition party Kuomintang (KMT),
which has interacted closely with the CCP since
2005, rebuked Hu's remark by arguing that Taiwan's
future should be determined by the island's
people, and the decision is neither associated
with CCP nor could the island tolerate any CCP
The worst news for Hu was
probably the reactions of people in Taiwan.
Beijing has tried to win the hearts and minds of
the island's residents, but few in Taiwan paid
attention to China's political drama, and even
fewer were aware of Hu's apparent olive branch to
In downtown Taipei, Amy Kuo, a
36-year-old office clerk, noted that she had not
heard the term "17th National Congress" of the
Yeh Hung-yuan, a 34-year-old sales
manager of a medical machinery company, had some
understanding of the meaning of "17th CCP
Congress" but was not aware of Hu's remarks. "It
would be either threatening Taiwan independence or
talking about an unrealistic 'peaceful
unification'," he guessed.
Jesse Chuang, a
27-year-old doctorial program student, said he had
no impression of Hu's remark. "I only remember
that Jiang Zemin didn't clap his hands [after Hu's
speech]," Chuang said.
Amid the tensions
raised by Chen's proposal for holding a referendum
on Taiwan's United Nations membership, which both
China and the United States have said would cross
the "red line" (for going independent), Hu's
gesture surprised some observers. Reports and
rumors that Hu would make Taiwan a key focus of
his speech circulated widely before the meeting.
Some analysts in Taiwan, however, argued
that those who were expecting harsh rhetoric from
Hu were actually misreading the tea leaves.
"Any serious tension with Taiwan would
jeopardize the political report's domestic
priorities," said Kou Chien-wen, "The report is
for the upcoming five years, but not for any
single incident [like the referendum]," he added.
Ruan Ming, a consultant to the Taiwan
Research Institute and once an aide to former CCP
secretary general Hu Yaobang, echoed Kuo's
argument from the perspective of Beijing's
relatively successful Taiwan policy.
would not have been helpful to the current policy
if he had delivered an either tougher or softer
remark," Ruan said.
It is almost
impossible that Beijing would implement the
Anti-Secession Law, which it enacted in March
2005, before and after Taiwan's referendum,
analysts in Taiwan believe. Beijing's current
policy toward Taiwan has featured less threatening
rhetoric than under Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin
and has not included a timetable for unification.
Observers wonder, however, how satisfied
Hu has been with the execution of his country's
Taiwan policy, and it may not have been a
coincidence that none of the leadership's Taiwan
affairs personnel won a seat on the party central
committee's 25-member political bureau at the
The incumbent director of
the Taiwan affairs office, Chen Yunlin, was
removed from the bureau last week because he had
reached the mandatory retirement age.
Chong-pin Lin, president of the Foundation
on International and Cross-Strait Studies and
former deputy defense minister and Mainland
Affairs Council vice chairman, noted that Hu came
to realize shortly after he came to power in 2002
that Beijing's hardline policy had actually
bolstered momentum for Taiwan's independence.
With Hu in charge, more substantial
economic, cultural, religious and political
exchanges have been conducted across the strait.
And a "one-China" net might be under construction
for Taiwan, as Beijing has written the Taiwan
issue into more and more official documents, such
as its 11th five-year plan published in March
Hu's olive branch, therefore, is
consistent with Hu's previous practices, in the
minds of some observers. At a summit with Taiwan's
opposition Kuomintang on April 29, 2005, an
agreement to sign a peace accord was among some of
the points of consensus.
observers, Hu's remark might seem fresh and
friendly, but others disagreed. "Hu's speech looks
more like setting a framework. For the upcoming
five years, a precondition [one China] would be
required for political negotiation," said a former
senior official at the Mainland Affairs Council,
who spoke under the condition of anonymity,
"Party-to-party negotiation would be the format.
This is a regression [of China's friendliness]."
Former communist Ruan endorsed the former
official's argument, and contended that
"technically, the hostility is only between the
CCP and KMT", suggesting Hu's proposal was for the
KMT but would not be applicable to the governing
Democratic Progressive Party.
widespread rumors that Beijing has actively made
contact with the camps of the DPP and KMT
presidential candidates, but whether it will be
able to develop a more harmonious relationship
with the independence-minded DPP remains to be
With Hu's offer gaining little
resonance in Taiwan, Chong-pin Lin suggested that
it might be time for Beijing to conduct some "soul
searching" about why it has a negative image among
a majority of Taiwanese, especially when Hu has
been getting a consolidated power and trying to
adopt pragmatic approaches.
Tsai is a freelance journalist based in