'Brake' on cross-strait ties
By CHAN WAI-FONG recently in Taipei
TAIWAN'S top planners of mainland policy admit Taipei has put a brake on exchanges with the mainland after the Qiandao Lake tragedy, but deny it is a step backward in cross-strait relations.
The vice-chairman of Taiwan's cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Yeh Chin-fong, said the Government's attitude was to ''wait and see'', and described the halt as temporary.
Mrs Yeh heads a group formed to deal with the Lake Qiandao tragedy, in which 24 Taiwanese tourists were killed in March, and had brought about a ban on tours to the mainland and on cultural and economic exchanges.
The travel ban was lifted partially last week, but the MAC would recommend in the next fortnight whether Taiwan should resume full cultural and economic ties, she said.
Although Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) favours a quicker pace in dialogue with the mainland, the MAC is regarded as being rather conservative in dealing with Beijing.
However, SEF secretary-general Chiao Jen-ho, said differences between the two were due to their ''different job nature''.
''The MAC is a policy unit while the SEF deals on practical matters,'' Mr Chiao said.
''It [the MAC] has to liaise with various ministries - defence, intelligence, transport, economics, and finance. It is therefore rather slow in decision-making.'' Mr Chiao, a former close aide to President Lee Teng-hui, said Taiwan's relationship with the mainland was one of its most important issues.
''Our biggest threat comes from the mainland who block us in foreign affairs and still uphold the possibility of using force on us,'' he said.
''The MAC therefore tends to be conservative in mapping out our mainland policies. [But] in reality, there is a need to strengthen our communications to solve [practical] problems.'' He dismissed an allegation that previous negotiations with the mainland had produced few results in bilateral relations.
''Although there is no formal agreement, there is progress . . . All the crucial issues have been solved and it is only a matter of putting it down in words,'' Mr Chiao said.
He said the SEF had proposed to hold the fifth round of talks this month in Taipei, but had had no response from the mainland yet.
But Mrs Yeh was obviously more cautious in assessing Taiwan-mainland relations.
''Negotiation has not progressed too much in the last three years . . . And the four rounds of talks has borne no fruit . . . The mainland even unilaterally cut communications, including telephones and telegrams, with Taiwan after the Qiandao Lake incident,'' she said.