May 29, 2008

Taiwan: Seeking More Prominent International Role

Active ImageWhile meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Chairman of the Taiwanese National Party pushed for a more prominent role on the international stage.

Below is an article written by Anita Chang and published by Associated Press:

The leader of Taiwan's new ruling party told Chinese President Hu Jintao that the self-governed island needs to have an international presence, but acknowledged Wednesday [28 May 2008] there would be no quick solution to long-standing disputes.

The hour long meeting between Hu and Wu Poh-hsiung, chairman of Taiwan's Nationalist Party, was the political climax of a trip meant to boost business ties. It marked a symbolic closing of the ranks between the rivals, whose ties have strengthened since Nationalist Ma Ying-jeou was elected as Taiwanese president in March [2008].

"The Taiwanese people need a sense of security, respect and a place in the international community," Wu said he told Hu during the talks. He did not elaborate, but said many disputes between Taiwan and China were unlikely to be resolved soon.

"A lot of problems can't be solved in the short term or even in the next few years," he told reporters.

Hu said Chinese authorities understood the Taiwanese stance and that "solutions will be found to these issues through consultation," state media reported. He said both sides should "face the future together to promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations."

China has worked hard in recent years to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and cut it off from anything that legitimizes its claims to sovereignty. Earlier this month, Chinese pressure scotched Taiwan's bid for observer status in the World Health Assembly, a U.N. body.

Beijing has threatened in the past to attack Taiwan if the self-ruled island seeks permanent independence, but the rhetoric has become more amiable lately. Chinese state television began its evening newscast Wednesday with a 10-minute report on Wu's visit, featuring footage of the leaders shaking hands and posing together for photos.

An upbeat Wu told reporters after the meeting that he had stressed the first priority was launching weekend charter flights and opening up Taiwan to mainland tourists.

Chinese leaders have already expressed their support for the proposals by Ma, who was elected after pledging to seek economic engagement with China and end nearly six decades of hostility.

The platform played well with voters following eight years of a confrontational approach by Taiwan's previous president, Chen Shui-bian. Chen wanted formal independence, a stance that enraged Beijing.

In the last century, the Nationalists fought a bloody civil war with the Chinese Communists on the mainland. The Nationalists' defeated forces fled in 1949 and settled on Taiwan, separated by a 100-mile-wide strait.

China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and has pledged to unify with the island of 23 million people — by force if necessary, by persuasion if possible.

Most Taiwanese reject unification, fearing it would deprive them of their freedoms and compromise their economic prosperity. But Ma has made clear to Wu that he must not discuss the thorny issue of Taiwan's sovereignty or unification during the trip.

Wu ends his six-day trip with a visit to the commercial center of Shanghai, home to tens of thousands of Taiwanese businesspeople.