Way ahead looks rough for next cross-strait talks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 December, 2010, 12:00am

Although three days of talks between Beijing and Taipei yielded an agreement on medical co-operation, the more important investment protection pact was left unsigned.

And Chen Yunlin, the mainland's top negotiator in these talks, acknowledged yesterday that the road ahead would be bumpy for the two sides.

'There will be more important agendas in future talks, and on the road ahead, it is inevitable that difficulties and obstacles that could hamper progress [of bilateral ties] will occur,' he said following the sixth round of talks.

But Chen stressed that such obstacles would 'never change the cross-strait peaceful trend'.

Chen led a group of senior officials in talks with his Taiwanese counterpart, Chiang Pin-kung, in Taipei on Tuesday. Both sides said later that the investment protection agreement became bogged down because of the complexity and sensitivity of some of the terms and issues.

One negotiator said the mainland was concerned about the island's demand to bring in international arbitrators to settle disputes, a move that would elevate Taipei's sovereign status. And Taiwan was hesitant about the mainland's demand that restrictions on mainland investments on the island be lifted.

Although both Chiang and Chen stressed that they expected the investment protection agreement would be signed during the next round of talks, analysts were doubtful.

'I am not that optimistic about this,' political commentator Yang Hsien-hung said. He said a similar agreement between other countries would take up to four years to sign. While Taiwanese businesspeople wanted protection from the mainland, mainland investors would also expect the same from Taiwan.

What's more, he added: 'What should the Ma Ying-jeou government do to offset the pressure and criticism from the pro-independence camp?'

Analysts said the two sides had already signed 15 agreements, including the medical co-operation pact on Tuesday, in just 21/2 years - a remarkable feat. 'These were relatively easy ones that should have been done some time ago if it were not for the sour relations between Beijing and the Chen Shui-bian government,' political science professor George Tsai Wei of Chinese Cultural University in Taipei said.

Those agreements signed by Beijing were all non-political, involving merely cross-strait tourism, transport, economic, health, and crime-fighting co-operation. 'But the time has come for the two sides to deal with tougher issues, which take time to ponder,' Tsai said.

The Economic Daily News in Taiwan also said in its editorial that the single agreement signed by the two sides on Tuesday highlighted the need to alter the cross-strait dialogue mechanism.

'Negotiations on future agreements are expected to become more and more difficult,' it said, adding that similar deadlocks were bound to emerge in upcoming talks.

'The two sides should stop setting a time frame for completing negotiations and signing agreements.'

Besides making the investment protection pact a major item for the next round of talks, the two sides also agreed on Tuesday to tackle the highly complex agreements on trade in goods and services - two follow-up issues after they had signed the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement in June.

The pro-independence camp, led by the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, continued to criticise Ma's mainland engagement policy and challenge the effectiveness of the 15 signed agreements, saying some of them were just economic sweeteners to attract votes.