Frank Hsieh breaks ice with warm mainland visit

Taiwanese heavyweight broke ice with Beijing but may fuel tensions within opposition party

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 3:38am

Former Taiwanese premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting's just-concluded mainland visit was viewed as an icebreaker in establishing better relations between the mainland and the island's main opposition party.

But analysts warned about reading too much into its significance. While some believe Hsieh's visit was a positive step towards influencing the Democratic Progressive Party's policy on Beijing, others say it will fuel tensions in the opposition ranks.

Hsieh, the most senior politician from the Beijing-wary DPP to visit the mainland, yesterday concluded his five-day visit that included meeting high-level officials such as State Councillor Dai Bingguo , State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi and Chen Yunlin, director of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

The meetings, though basically still limited to exchanging views without reaching any consensus, showed that Beijing took special interest in Hsieh's visit, hoping it could help open the door to better communication with the pro-independence DPP in the future, analysts said.

Stressing it was a private visit, Hsieh started in his ancestral home of Xiamen, Fujian . Throughout his trip, he was given cordial receptions, like those reserved for VIPs.

The visit "showed the mainland considered Hsieh's visit to be rather significant", said Liu Guoshen , of the Taiwan Research Institute under Xiamen University.

Liu also said Hsieh's visit had helped pave the way for contact between the mainland and the DPP. "Though the opinions of Hsieh are still different from those of the mainland, there are still some overlapping points," Liu said. He was referring to the "constitutional consensus" that Hsieh proposed to replace the so-called 1992 consensus, which says there is only "one China", with respective interpretations of what that means. It is not recognised by the DPP.

By "constitutional consensus", Hsieh means a framework that highlights agreements between Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties regarding democracy, human rights and other constitutional issues, even though they may not all agree on every element of its constitution. Taiwan's constitution stipulates there is only one China, though this refers to the Republic of China - the island's official title.

Beijing has insisted the recognition of the "one China" principle is the basis for the two sides to hold talks. It resumed talks with Taipei after Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang was elected president in 2008 and adopted a policy to engage Beijing. Ma has supported that basic principle but says the "one China" is the "Republic of China".

Analysts, however, said that although Hsieh opened the door for future talks, that scenario can play out only if what he said in Beijing was backed by the DPP and became cross-strait policy.

"The political implications of Hsieh's visit are strong, but only when the party is able to support this could it be called an icebreaker," said Hsu Yung-ming, of Soochow University in Taipei.

DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang and ex-chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen noted Hsieh's visit as a private trip, meaning he was not representing the party.

Several other DPP heavyweights questioned Hsieh's proposal, saying the island's constitution had long been revised to exclude the mainland, so there was no "China substance" within the constitution.