Xi Jinping

Beijing should consider redefining 'one China'

Charles Chen says a redefinition could help launch cross-strait political negotiations

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 3:25am


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Apart from his "Chinese Dream", President Xi Jinping would appear to have a "Taiwanese Dream", too. In his February meeting with Lien Chan, the honorary chairman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang, Xi expressed his wish to engage in political negotiation for peace and unity across the Taiwan Strait.

Xi's dream for Taiwan can only be accomplished through collaboration.

Ma Ying-jeou's victory in the 2008 presidential election marked a turning point in cross-strait relations. His shift towards rapprochement with mainland China brought some warmth to long-frozen ties. Since then, a range of economic agreements have been signed and millions of mainland Chinese tourists have visited the island after travel rules were eased.

These successes helped win Ma a second term last year. But despite these economic and social links, there has been no official political dialogue, testing Beijing's patience.

Beijing fully expects cross-strait relations to move to the next stage - of negotiations over the ultimate political arrangement for the two sides. But, first, Xi will have to confront the existence of the "Republic of China". If both sides cannot reach a consensus over this, to be frank, there will be no consensus on anything.

There are clues that Beijing is not yet ready to change its mind. For instance, over the escalating territorial dispute in the East China Sea, it has continued to urge Taipei to co-operate in claiming sovereignty against Tokyo. It has so far refused to respond to Taipei's peace initiative - which calls for all parties to shelve their claims on the disputed islands - and also opposed Taipei's fisheries negotiation with Tokyo.

Zhang Zhijun, the new head of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, called for cross-strait political dialogue in a speech late last month. However, Richard Bush, the former US diplomat in charge of US-Taiwan relations, said this proposal would be "very difficult" to carry out because it lacks public support in Taiwan. This is also why Ma has prioritised "deep interaction" rather than "political engagement" in navigating cross-strait relations.

One recent suggestion, from Li Yihu, an expert on cross-strait affairs at Peking University, may prove inspiring. He said mainland China should consider a more innovative and flexible definition of its "one China principle". He said Beijing's cross-strait policy should focus on persuading the majority of Taiwanese to acknowledge the relationship. For this to happen, Beijing needs a more inclusive definition of "one China".

He is right. Xi should give this idea some thought.

Charles I-hsin Chen is a research associate at the Centre of Taiwan Studies, London School of Oriental and African Studies, and a former spokesman of the Kuomintang in Taiwan