Saturday, May 31, 2008

The KMT Returns to China

Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung has been visiting from Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party has ensured that such a gesture be rewarded. Hu Jintao met with the KMT Chairman in a lavishly staged photo-op session. The CCP organ reported "Hu Jintao (R), General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, shakes hands with Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on May 28, 2008. Hu Jintao met with Wu Poh-hsiung and all the members of the visiting KMT group here on Wednesday." Hu Jintao Meets With KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung, People's Daily On Line, May 29, 2008. The commonalities across party lines were emphasized in ways that were meant to send signals across all intellectual class lines. Much was made, for example, of Wu's visit to the mausoleum of Sun Yat-Sen. KMT chairman Pays Homage to Dr. Sun Yat´Sen's Mausoleum, People's Daily Online, May 28, 2008. These signals, though, werre not without their ambiguities. Wu produced a couplet for the visit to the Mausoleum capable of a variety of interpretations: "'tian xia wei gong, ren min zui da', which means 'The State belongs to the people. The people are all the important.'" KMT chairman Pays Homage to Dr. Sun Yat´Sen's Mausoleum, supra.

But there were more tangible benefits as well--to both sides. The Chinese were able to exploit an event that took Western media activity away from Tibet and its search for independence,. Indeed, a great value of this gesture was to oppose the "stubbornness" of the Tibetan priestly aristocracy against the forward thinking actions of what had once been the most intimately connected and greatest poltiical enemy of the CCP and its plans for China. Of course, whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen, But certainly, from the CCP perpsective, it is something worth attempting. . .and the Western press might be understood as both fickle and to some extent gullable (but self aware). See, e.g., Rafael Poch, Primera Visita a China, en 60 Años, del Líder del Kuomintang taiwanés, La Vanguardia, May 29, 2008 ("Todo lo negativo que Pekín encajó a nivel de imagen con la crisis de Tibet, viene más que compensado por los progresos realizados en el muy sensible ámbito taiwanés," Id., at p. 6).

More importantly, for both sides, there was agreement on resumption of talks and resumption of some more extensive contacts. Hu Jintao
called for resuming exchanges and talks, based on the "1992 Consensus", between the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF), as early as possible, and practically solving problems concerning the two sides through talks on equal footing. Once the ARATS-SEF dialogue is resumed, priority should be given to issues including cross-Strait weekend chartered flights and approval for mainland residents traveling to Taiwan, which are of the biggest concern to people on both sides of the Strait, said Hu.

Hu says opportunity for cross-Strait relations should be cherished, People's Daily Online, May 29, 2008. Hu's statements produced quick action of the usual sort. "The mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Thursday sent a letter to the Taiwan-based Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF), inviting them for talks. The letter invites SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kun and Vice Chairman and Secretary-General Kao Koong-lian to lead a SEF delegation to visit Beijing from June 11 to 14 for talks on the cross-Strait weekend chartered flights and mainland tourists' traveling to Taiwan." Mainland Based Association Invites Taiwan counterparts for Talks, People's Daily On Lin, May 29, 2008. And thus the reward. As the Mainland press noted: " The two topics have been discussed by related trade organizations many times and some consensus had been reached." Taiwan Foundation Accepts Invitation From Mainland Counterpart for Talks, People's Daily On Line, May 29, 2008. So it comes as no surprise that, now, "Ten airlines from the mainland and Taiwan will make 19 round-trip flights for the traditional Duanwu, or Dragon Boat Festival, from June 3-15, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said Thursday." Cross Strait Charter Flights Set for Dragon Boat Festival, People's Daily On Line, May 29, 2008. This serves the Chinese as well. "People in mainland celebrate their first "official" Dragon Boat holiday this year. The State Council (cabinet) revised the official holiday schedule late last year to add three traditional festivals -- Qingming, Duanwu and Zhongqiu -- in response to public demand." Id.

But there was talk of political ties as well, between the KMT and the CCP. In the grand vision, of course, the ideal would be to heal the rupture of 1927. But that is impossible. Still, time and experience--along with desire--sometimes heals even the greatest wounds (especially when the original protagonists are both dead and reinterpreted). And thus another potentially interesting palpable benefit of the trip, talks between the KMT and CCP. " Exchanges between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) will play an important role in the relations across the Taiwan Strait, according to visiting KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung." KMT Chairman: Party exchanges across Taiwan Strait to play important role, People's Daily On Line, May 29, 2008. This is meant to supplement the the talks between the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and the Taiwan-based Strait Exchange Foundation (SEF). Id. The importance of inter-Party ties on political relationships was not lost of the principals.
"Yang Yi said the summit between General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Hu Jintao and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung was an important event for the two parties to achieve extensive consensus. Yang said both the CPC and the KMT, or the Nationalist Party of China, cherished the good momentum in the relationship across the Taiwan Strait. The two parties agreed to seize the opportunity to build mutual trust, lay aside disputes, seek consensus and shelve differences, and jointly create a win-win situation, Yang said."
CPC-KMT Summit Significant for Cross-Strait Relations, People's Daily On Line, May 30, 2008. Of course, there was a long history of such meetings in the old days. For the moment, the talks will be kept to safe subjects--the concurrent economic and exchanges negotiations. Id. Their future success, now that the progenitors of both parties are long dead, remains to be seen.

There were internal benefits for the Taiwanese as well. Wu needs to present some tangible benefits to a policy of less provocation. And because of the extent of Taiwanese investment in China, something with economic impact would likely serve him best. At the same time, he must be careful to avoid reminding his CCP benefactors of his suggestion, during the campaign that the Taiwanese ought to be able to choose their own destiny.
See, e.g., Rafael Poch, Primera Visita a China, en 60 Años, del Líder del Kuomintang taiwanés, La Vanguardia, May 29, 2008. Indeed, for this visit, Wu has been careful to emphasize the "correct" vision. "The KMT has won two important elections in Taiwan recently, Wu said, which showed that the mainstream opinion of the Taiwan people identified with what the KMT stood for, and most of the Taiwan people agree that the two sides on the strait can achieve peaceful development and a win-win situation." KMT Chairman Eyes Better Cross-Strait Relations, People's Daily On Line, May 31, 2008.

But Wu will have to tread carefully with his electorate in Taiwan. The KMT forgets its own history on Taiwan at its peril. In a sense, that history suggests that the KMT's own journey to Taiwan in the 1940s was a bit irregular, as was its imposition of government. It's relationship with the CCP, ancient, retains a certain ideological closeness that can be discerned even after nearly a century of bitter competition. For the CCP, the greatest victory, as well as a great irony, will be to have the KMT serve as its instrument in effecting reunification--both of territory and Party.

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