New 'office' talk between Taipei and Beijing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am


Taiwan and the mainland yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the resumption of talks through their respective semi-official agencies, with both sides realising they will have to swap representative offices if they are to continue to develop ties.

Analysts say, however, that given the sensitivities surrounding cross-strait relations, both Taipei and Beijing will be likely to factor in political calculations in handling the issue.

The establishment of representative offices by Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats) on either side of the strait has been much-discussed since the two front bodies represented their respective governments in the reopening of talks in Beijing on June 12, 2008.

On Monday, Wang Yi , director of the mainland's State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, told a visiting delegation from Taiwan in Beijing that with the rapid development of cross-strait exchanges it was time for the two agencies to talk about setting up representative offices on each other's territory.

He said that while Beijing was in no rush to force the issue, Taipei had been positive about the possibility of swapping such offices.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said last month that the relevant authorities in Taiwan could start to study the possibility of revising the island's Cross-strait People's Relations Act to allow the formation of representative offices.

Beijing was the first to raise the issue when the two sides resumed talks in 2008 following the inauguration of the mainland-friendly Ma as Taiwan's president in May that year.

Since then, the two agencies have engaged in seven series of talks, signing 16 economic, transportation, tourism, legal assistance and other non-political agreements, including an important Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement that has helped free up cross-strait trade.

Lai Shin-yuan, chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's top mainland policy planning body, which oversees the SEF, said the talks and agreements had institutionalised the two negotiating bodies.

The Ma government's response to mainland suggestions that representative offices be set up was initially lukewarm, due to fears that it could lend the pro-independence camp in Taiwan an excuse to accuse Ma of getting too close to Beijing. But analysts say that since winning a second term in May Ma is more convinced of the need to set up such offices and hopes they may be part of his legacy.

Professor George Tsai Wei, a cross-strait expert at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said: 'While the two bodies have both political and functional relevance, it would be better for the two sides to play down the political implications in setting up the representative offices if they are to achieve this purpose.'

He said that while Beijing would hope to use its office to push for political dialogue with Taipei, Taiwan would be more likely to highlight its self-governing status.

The SEF and Arats were set up in the early 1990s as front bodies for talks, but negotiations were not held until 2008, partly due to pro-independence moves by former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui and his successor, Chen Shui-bian.