Southward strategy success
By DENNIS ENGBARTH in Taipei
TAIWAN has further solidified its bargaining position with respect to mainland China through President Lee Teng-hui's Lunar New Year tour through three Southeast Asian neighbours, described by analysts as part of his ''Southward Strategy''.
The trip, which received expected protests from Beijing, came just days after the Kuomintang Government apparently gained concessions from its mainland rival over matters such as air piracy, at semi-official talks in Beijing earlier this month.
Analysts say mainland negotiators may face an even more confident Taipei delegation next month in Beijing following the President's ''unofficial'' diplomacy in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, all three of which officially recognise Beijing.
After meeting Philippines President Fidel Ramos ''in transit'' at the Subic Bay airport, Mr Lee had an unpublicised chat with Indonesian President Suharto on Bali on Friday.
Mr Lee's holiday excursion shows how Taiwan's economic strength can be translated into ''unofficial'' diplomatic gains.
Huang Hui-chen, executive director of the Institute for National Policy Research, said the Southern Strategy was ''the other side of the coin'' to Mr Lee's efforts to build better cross-strait relations with mainland China.'' ''Beijing must understand that if it tries to block Taiwan's diplomacy, cross-strait relations will suffer,'' Mr Huang said.
Some observers point to the relatively mild protest from Beijing over the meetings between Mr Lee and his Association of Southeast Asian Nations friends, as a sign of greater flexibility in cross-strait contacts in future.
The first conciliatory sign emerged at this month's talks in Beijing as Taiwan first gained important ground during talks between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and its mainland counterpart the Association for Relations Across the Straits (ARATS).
The meeting between vice-chairman of ARATS Tang Shubei, and SEF's vice-chairman, his Taipei host Chiao Jen-ho, came after three rounds of follow-up talks last year.
The previous talks failed to agree key issues such as the repatriation of hijackers and mainland illegal immigrants.
The reported ''high-level consensus'' between Mr Chiao and Mr Tang in Beijing contained an implicit acknowledgment of Taiwan's legal authority, even though the phrase was absent from the joint press statement issued by the two men.
Moreover, the agreement also stated that hijackers would not be liable for dual punishment on the same charges for which they were tried or convicted, and that time served, say in Taiwan, would be deducted from prison terms after repatriation.
The agreement granted in principle that decisions made by arbitrating organisations on both sides in fishing disputes would have legal binding force, and that each side could unilaterally repatriate illegal entrants from the other side, which also reflects implicit acknowledgement of Taiwan's legal jurisdiction.