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    Greater China
     Oct 27, 2007
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



has had negative consequences.

When Chinese 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 interference.

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 Taiwan.

In downtown Taipei, Amy Kuo, a 36-year-old office clerk, noted that she had not heard the term "17th National Congress" of the CCP.

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.

"It 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 recent meeting.

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 2006.

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.

To some 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.

There are 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 seen.

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.

Ting-I Tsai is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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