Boao Forum emerges as stage for cross-strait talks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, 12:00am

The Boao Forum for Asia, a flop as a regional talkfest, has inadvertently emerged as an important platform for meetings between mainland and Taiwanese leaders in recent years.

The annual forum was originally designed to draw together the region's political and business elite, with a view to rivalling the influence of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.

But a lack of interest in the event by regional leaders eroded its importance until 2008, when then Taiwanese vice-president-elect Vincent Siew Wan-chang took part and met President Hu Jintao .

Since then the forum has provided a much-needed venue for leaders from both sides of the strait to discuss matters that are important but not suitable for formal negotiations.

The reshaping of the forum has prompted harsh criticism from the pro-independence camp in Taiwan, which has branded it a 'secret second channel' for negotiations between the mainland-friendly Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China.

Siew's participation in the April 2008 forum in Hainan , his fifth as head of the Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation, was later seen as a watershed for cross-strait rapprochement.

A private meeting with Hu on the sidelines of the forum resulted in the resumption of cross-strait talks in June that year, just a month after Siew was inaugurated as Taiwanese vice-president.

Taiwanese media and analysts have recognised the forum's importance to the thawing of the cross-strait relationship, after an eight-year freeze during the administration of Chen Shui-bian, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

'The regional forum has not only allowed Taiwan to attend a major international economic conference after Apec, but has gradually developed into an important platform for high-level, strategic, cross-strait dialogue,' the Taipei-based China Times newspaper said.

Last year, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou sent Fredrick Chien Fu, former president of Taiwan's government watchdog, the Control Yuan, as his envoy to the forum, with Chien and Premier Wen Jiabao holding talks on its sidelines.

That meeting set the stage for the two sides to hold a third summit between Taiwan's top negotiator, Chiang Pin-kung, and his mainland counterpart, Chen Yunlin, with Wen saying the mainland would approve concrete measures to promote cross-strait economic co-operation and tackle the financial crisis, together with Taiwan.

Premier Wen also called for the formation of an economic co-operation mechanism, echoing Ma's push for the establishment of an Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement.

This year, Ma plans to send close confidant Su Chi, former secretary general of Taiwan's National Security Council, to join Chien at next month's forum, with Su expected to meet Vice-President Xi Jinping , widely regarded as Hu's mostly likely successor.

Cross-strait analyst George Tsai Wei, a professor of political science at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the forum was a useful platform for the two sides to increase their understanding.

'At least, it allows the two sides to understand their mindsets, which would be helpful for them to map out their cross-strait policies and avoid misunderstanding,' Tsai said.

Tsai also said Su's expected meeting with Xi would 'allow Taiwan to understand the mindset of the mainland's fifth generation leaders'.

Su confirmed on Sunday that he would join Chien in attending the forum in his capacity as an 'adviser' to the Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation but said no 'special mission' was involved.