Jun 09, 2008

Taiwan: Détente in China Relations

Active ImageDiplomats from Taiwan and China will meet for the first time in nine years to discuss the possibility of direct flights between the two countries. 

Below is an article published by the International Herald Tribune:

Negotiators from China and Taiwan will meet formally this week [9 June 2008] for the first time in nine years, but backsliding on a deal for direct flights may cool the mood of détente. 

Taiwan's top China negotiator, P.K. Chiang, will lead a team traveling to Beijing from Wednesday [11 June 2008] to Saturday [14 June 2008] to negotiate with his counterpart, Chen Yunlin, after recent informal meetings between the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and Taiwanese leaders. 

China and Taiwan last spoke formally in 1999, before former President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan enraged Beijing by describing ties as "a special state-to-state relationship." 

Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has vowed to bring the island under its rule, by force if necessary. In 1949, Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists, also known as the KMT, fled to the island. China, which wants to avoid diplomatic tensions in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in August, is expected to take a conciliatory line this week. 

"It's taken them so many years to meet, so I think talks between the two sides won't fail," said Chao Chien-min, a political science professor at National Chengchi University in Taiwan.  

For Ma Ying-jeou, the Taiwanese president who took office on May 20 [2008], the signing of a tourism and transit deal after talks this week would crack open his campaign pledge to breathe life into the island's economy. 

But the long-awaited deal to establish direct weekend charter flights and let Chinese tourists visit the island in large numbers for the first time - the only topic on the agenda this week - may fall short of pledges trumpeted in the Taiwanese media. 

Beijing wants to limit tourists to well-educated and high-income people to ensure their "quality," initially keeping the number below the 3,000 per day that Ma had promised, said Chang Jung-kung, the Taiwan governing party's China affairs director. 

There are currently no direct flights allowed between Taiwan and China, except for on major holidays. 

The number of Taiwan airports with direct flights to China, which are designed to reduce time-consuming layovers in Hong Kong and Macao, would drop from four from the eight reported earlier because the others are not ready, Chang said. 

Weekend direct flights, expected by July 4 [2008], would still fly through Hong Kong or Macao air space for security reasons, Chang said. Foreigners will not be allowed to board the planes. 

"These talks are pretty simple, just flights and tourists," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taiwan.