The Carnegie China Program invited Andrew Yang of the Taipei-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies to analyze recent developments in cross-Strait relations and their implications for the future stability of the Taiwan Strait.  Michael Swaine of the Carnegie Endowment commented on the presentation and moderated the discussion.

Dr. Yang began his presentation by noting that over the past few months, both Beijing and Taipei have significantly changed their approach toward each other. The former appears to have shifted its policy priorities from seeking reunification to preventing Taiwan independence. Indeed, the guidelines issued by Hu Jintao in the fall of 2004 lay out three policy principles: strive for negotiation, prepare for a possible war, but, at the same time, fear not a possible procrastination on the part of Taipei. This new approach has clearly been implemented, especially following Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (LY) elections in December 2004.

Taipei also seems to have shifted its strategy following the LY elections, which made clear to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to successfully push for fundamental constitutional changes. Chen Shui-bian now appears to have shifted his goal from altering the island’s constitution to seeking the establishment of a peaceful bridge across the Strait and forming some sort of historical legacy in cross-Strait relations. His willingness to be more accommodating has been evinced in the success of cross-Strait flights for the Chinese New Year, his firm but low-profile protest against the Anti-Secession Law, his ten-point agreement with James Soong, as well as his endorsement of Lien Chan’s and James Sonng’s visits to the mainland.

These tactical changes, however, have not been accompanied by shifts in the fundamental positions of either side of the Taiwan Strait. Indeed, Wang Zaixi, the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, reiterated the same pre-conditions for the resumption of government-to-government talks during Lien Chan’s visit: namely, that Chen Shui-bian must recognize the 1992 consensus, oppose independence, and renounce the DPP’s resolution for Taiwan independence. In Taipei, meanwhile, Chen Shui-bian still maintains that Beijing should recognize Taipei as co-equal and should not impose any pre-conditions for resuming cross-Strait dialogue. Thus, at the most fundamental level, there still has been no changes in the two sides’ positions.

The visits of Lien Chan, the chair of the Kuomintang (KMT), and James Soong, the head of the People First Party (PFP), have some potentially significant impact on future cross-Strait relations. The visits have legitimized party-to-party interactions, namely those between the CCP and the KMT and between the CCP and the PFP. Perhaps more importantly, the visits have institutionalized new platforms from which policy solutions could be devised and proposed. Subsequent working-level meetings between officials from both sides of the Strait could lead to the development and recommendation of policy measures concerning trade, investment, education, and other matters.

Altogether, these will have important implications for the future conduct of cross-Strait relations. First, these may allow the development of credible policy recommendations that will be beneficial to both sides of the Strait. Second, the institutionalization of new platforms displaces official dialogue as the sole channel for exchange and communication and provides Beijing with greater opportunity to attract Taiwan. Third, the establishment of these new venues also gives Beijing direct access to Taiwan’s domestic politics. In particular, party-to-party talks between the CCP, KMT, and PFP will certainly have an impact on the agenda of the opposition-controlled Legislative Yuan.

What should Taipei do with respect to Beijing’s peaceful offensive? First, Chen Shui-bian ought to reach out to the opposition parties on the basis of securing Taiwan’s national interests. This will help the Chen administration avoid becoming increasingly isolated in the cross-Strait policy arena. Second, Chen should also work to revamp Taiwan’s national security network. Indeed, as cross-Strait interactions expand and deepen, it will be important for Taipei to close possible security loopholes.

Dr. Swaine briefly commented on Yang’s presentation. He agreed with Dr. Yang’s observation that while Beijing and Taipei have adopted significant tactical changes, the fundamental positions of both sides have not changed. He also agreed with Dr. Yang’s assessment that recent developments have put Chen Shui-bian in a difficult position: the visits of Lien Chan and James Soong put immense pressure on Chen to be more moderate and accommodating, but he also faces significant constraints within his party.

Swaine also went on to highlight what Dr. Yang had implicitly discussed – the role of public opinion in Taiwan. He noted that the results of the LY elections were widely interpreted to indicate the presence of a large proportion of individuals in Taiwan who are in favor of restraint and pragmatism in cross-Strait relations. This is a key factor that appears to have driven the tactical changes adopted not only by the Chen administration, but also by Beijing as well. Indeed, Beijing has increasingly realized that it can forge a new strategy vis-à-vis Taiwan, one that is centered on attracting favorable public opinion in Taiwan.