Taiwan’s ‘Grand’ thaw with China (With Images)

June 30th, 2010 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Manish Chand
Taipei, June 30 (IANS) This is a story of cross-strait camaraderie that is enacted in the Grand Hotel in the Taiwanese capital every day. Once a symbol of defiance to Communist China, the red-pillared hotel built in the style of a grand temple now welcomes hundreds of Chinese tourists and serves as the stage for tearful family reunions and, of course, doing deals.

It was here Roger from mainland China and Robert from Taiwan (not their Chinese names) met to start a medical equipment company and they are now raking in money and rediscovering their homeland.

“I love Taiwanese food and the traditional Chinese culture one gets to see here. The thaw is a good thing that is happening,” says Robert.

The story of Roger and Robert is replicated every day across Taiwan as the self-ruled island pours millions of dollars of investments in China, a process that culminated with the signing of the historic Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in the southern Chinese city of Chongqing Tuesday.

“The ECFA is a landmark step to normalise economic cooperation. It’s no longer a zero sum game, but a win-win situation for both sides,” David Y. Lin, Taiwan’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

The pact, he said, will pave the way for Taiwan to enter into free trade deals with other countries like Indonesia, Japan and Singapore.

The red-pillared hotel - the ubiquitous red here symbolises good luck in Taiwan and not Communism - was built by Madam Chiang Kai-shek, the wife of the legendary Kuomintang leader General Chiang Kai-shek who fled mainland China after the Communist takeover in 1949.

The formidable couple hosted world leaders here to win their recognition at the height of cross-strait tensions in the 1950s.

Ironically, Hotel Grand, from where you can see the glittering Taipei skyline and Tower 101, the world’s second tallest building, is now a place for family reunions, doing cross-strait business deals and a curiosity that every day draws hundreds of visiting Chinese looking for a piece of missing history.

Prince Neil, as an old retainer and steward calls himself, bears witness to this dramatic transformation of cross-strait relations. He recalls those glorious days when celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and world leaders were entertained by General Chiang Kai-shek and his wife in the hotel when Taiwan was lobbying the world to recognize it as the real China.

“In those days, the limousines never stopped coming to the hotel with big names. Leaders, celebrities and ambassadors came in droves,” he recalled.

A gifted raconteur, he knows the hotel like the back of his hand and escorted this visiting writer to the ornate dressing room of Madam Chiang Kai-shek and the opulent presidential suite, now costing thousands of dollars for one night’s stay, where world leaders stayed.

But all this changed in the late 1990s as China’s economic stars shone and its global clout grew, leading most countries to shut down or downgrade their missions in Taipei.

Although Taiwan, which formally calls itself the Republic of China, still functions as an independent country with its own democratic political institutions, only 23 countries recognise it.

The last two years have been specially path-breaking ever since President Ma Ying-Jeou, also chair of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), announced a diplomatic truce with China which saw trade, investment and tourism soar between the two countries.

Bilateral trade has now exceeded $110 billion, making China Taiwan’s largest trading partner. Direct flights have more than doubled from 108 to 270 per week and 3,000 Chinese tourists visit Taiwan every day.

And Hotel Grand, the world’s tallest building built in the Chinese classical style, is at the heart of the unfolding rapprochement between the two countries, which still have hundreds of missiles pointed at each other.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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