Taiwan, China to resume talks amid dispute over island’s sovereignty

June 8th, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Taipei, June 8 (DPA) Taiwan and China, after decade-long tension caused by former president Chen Shui-bian’s bid for Taiwan independence, will resume dialogue next week to pave the way for lasting peace. During the semi-official dialogue, held June 11-14 in Beijing, the two sides are expected to sign pacts on opening weekend charter flights and allowing mainland tourists to visit Taiwan.

Future talks will discuss other, more sensitive issues such as a peace treaty, an agreement to protect Taiwan investors, removing missiles facing Taiwan and allowing Taiwan to join international organizations, or what Taipei calls “international space.”

Analysts said the dialogue will re-open the channel of communication and allow both sides to discuss and solve their problems one by one.

“The re-opening of the dialogue has broken the stalemate across the Taiwan Strait, but there are many problems and they must be solved one by one,” Wu Han, associate professor at the Kun Shan University, said.

“Economic issues can be solved first, political and military issues will be solved only after both sides have reached a certain degree of understanding,” he said.

Taiwan and China, split since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, held their first dialogue in 1993 in Singapore and conducted a series of talks within its framework.

Beijing halted the dialogue in 1998 when Taiwan’s then-president Lee Teng-hui’s advocated Taiwan independence. Cross-strait ties remained frozen during the 2000-2008 term under pro-independence former president Chen Shui-bian.

Tension began to thaw after Ma Ying-jeou, from the pro-China Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), won the March 22 presidential election pledging to seek peace with China and revive Taiwan’s economy.

While promising not to seek independence during his term, Ma hoped to open weekend charter flights and allow Chinese tourists visit Taiwan. The flights would be expanded to daily charter flights and eventually to regular flights.

China reacted by inviting Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung to visit Beijing and meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

In their meeting on May 28, Hu allowed the Beijing-Taipei dialogue to resume and assured Wu that so long as Taiwan considers itself part of China, anything can be discussed - including granting Taiwan “international space.”

Ma is pleased with the development, though aware of the difficulties ahead because the root of the Taiwan-China dispute is that Taiwan insists it is a sovereign country while China sees Taiwan as its breakaway province and is ready to recover it by force if Taipei seeks independence.

“The iceberg between Taiwan and China is huge and takes a long time to melt. So we must be patient,” Ma said.

He was happy that Hu has given the nod to resuming dialogue, saying “this shows our soft power has worked.”

If everything goes well, Taiwan and China’s envoys will sign the pacts on weekend charter flight and tourism, and Chinese tourists will start flying on charter flights to Taiwan starting July 4.

Taiwan is seeking to rejoin the United Nations and other international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), and wants to preserve its diplomatic ties with its 23 allies.

To ease tension, Ma, in his inauguration speech, proposed a diplomatic truce - Taipei and Beijing stop trying to win over each other’s allies and China should stop blocking Taiwan’s joining international organizations.

When Wu met Hu Jintao on May 28, he raised this with Hu.

“We can understand Taiwan people’s feelings. As for Taiwan’s request for ‘international space,’ like entry into WHO, it can be discussed in the cross-strait dialogue,” Hu told Wu.

The warm-up of ties between Taipei and Beijing has worried the Taiwan natives’ pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which fears Ma is falling into China’s trap because China will never compromise on its sovereignty over Taiwan.

“I am glad to see the warming of ties across the Taiwan, but I have the feeling that since March 22 (Ma’s winning the election), Taiwan’s sovereignty has been gradually eroded,” former vice president Annette Lu, a DPP member and a staunch advocate of Taiwan independence, said in a TV interview.

She said she feared that once Taipei is hooked by China’s sweeteners and Taiwan’s economy is reliant on China, Beijing will tighten the noose and bring the island into its fold.

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