Taiwan opens door to more mainland ties
In another change of policy on one of the thorny issues dogging cross-strait relations, Taiwan has proposed the eventual opening of formal liaison offices in Beijing and Taipei.
Dr Lai Shin-yuan, chairwoman of the island's Mainland Affairs Council, said yesterday that it was something that should be encouraged and pursued gradually.
Her comment came a day after Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou announced that he would consider signing a peace treaty with Beijing in the next decade. That statement won him praise from some Taiwanese lawmakers for being a responsible leader, but was criticised by the pro-independence camp for setting a timetable for reunification.
Lai, pictured, told a news conference in Taipei that the opening of liaison offices would be the end result of institutionalised talks between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait over the past three and a half years.
'In the process of gradually promoting the exchange of representative offices, this would make the mainland take note of the fact of the existence of the Republic of China [Taiwan's official title],' she said.
But Lai also stressed the need for cautious review and 'overall evaluation' before proceeding, saying it should be done on a step-by-step basis within 10 years - when the time was ripe.
She said the travel bodies of the two sides had already opened liaison offices on the other side of the strait and the next step would be for their negotiating bodies - the Straits Exchange Foundation in Taipei and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait in Beijing - to open liaison offices. Then, finally, the two sides could set up multi-function representative offices.
'But of course, it takes two to tango, given that the mainland must recognise our sovereignty before our two sides can sit down to talk about this issue,' Lai said.
Her comment signals a shift in policy, with the island's authorities previously having been evasive on establishing liaison offices in the two capitals. Just three months ago, when Taiwan set up representative offices in Hong Kong and Macau, Lai said their establishment had nothing to do with paving the way for the opening of formal offices representing the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Pundits said that opening formal liaison offices was not as politically sensitive as Ma's peace treaty idea, which has drawn fire from Taiwan's pro-independence camp, led by the island's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Cross-strait expert Professor Edward I-hsin Chen, from Tamkang University, said that if the mainland agreed to open such offices, it would mean that Beijing accepted Taiwan's sovereign status. That would involve years of discussion and a number of compromises.
President Hu Jintao said in Washington in January that Taiwanese issues 'concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they represent China's core interests'.
Tamkang University's Chen said: 'Some DPP local government heads might even welcome this idea as such offices could help facilitate exchanges and interactions.'
Chen said he did not expect the opening of such offices to become a target of attack by the DPP ahead of the island's presidential election on January 14.
The DPP yesterday continued to heap scorn on Ma's goal of signing a peace pact with the mainland in 10 years, accusing him of setting up a timetable for eventual union with the mainland.
'Without obtaining general support from the public, it is highly risky for Ma to promote such an issue, given that it would further split society and create political confrontation,' DPP chairwoman Dr Tsai Ing-wen said. She is Ma's main rival in the presidential poll.