Frank Hsieh's visit to mainland is ice-breaker in Taipei, Beijing relations
Taiwanese opposition Democratic Progressive Party heavyweight and former premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting struck no deals during his just-ended landmark visit to the mainland. There was no meeting with President Hu Jintao, grand receptions, gifts of pandas and crowds, as when Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan went to Beijing in 2005. Yet while not as historically significant an occasion, it was as ice-breaking for people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Only from such contact will misunderstandings and suspicions about one another be dispelled.
Yet Hsieh's visit was a success. He met State Councillor Dai Bingguo and top officials involved in cross-strait relations. Small, but necessary, steps were taken.
The DPP's independence leanings mean that Beijing has always been cold towards it, particularly when Chen Shui-bian was president. While the KMT has a complicated relationship with the Communist Party, having lost the civil war to it in 1949, it at least shares the idea of one China. That bond helped when the KMT defeated the DPP in elections in 2008 and Ma Ying-jeou took the presidency. The sides are now on a friendlier footing thanks to the trade, travel, tourism and communications deals he helped initiate and see to fruition.
Taiwanese have experienced the economic benefits and realise the necessity of moving closer to the mainland. That shift led to Ma's narrow re-election in January and caused a widening of divisions in the DPP. The DPP's leaders now understand they have to forge links with the mainland if the party is again to govern. Hsieh was the ideal person to make those tentative first steps.
But there are also benefits for Beijing. There have to be good relations across the strait no matter who is in office. Keeping friendly on terms and maintaining dialogue with dominant political parties ensures that ties do not dramatically swing each time there is an election. From meetings and reciprocal visits will come much-needed trust and understanding.