China leadership

Beijing won't rush into political talks with Taipei, analysts say

Beijing to get own house in order before political dialogue, analyst says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 5:36am

The report delivered by outgoing Communist Party general secretary Hu Jintao last week should remove any doubt in Taipei that Beijing will soon push for political talks, Taiwanese analysts said.

Such a push may have to wait for a year or two, as incoming Communist Party leader Xi Jinping consolidates his power and launches any plans he has to tackle internal problems. But Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou cannot afford to wait to develop strategies, they said.

"With the incoming new leadership, we should not continue sitting back without changing our approach, but should amend our policies in order to adapt ourselves to the changes," said Su Chi, a former secretary general of Taiwan's National Security Council.

Su said the Ma government was not well prepared for the mainland's leadership change. He noted that Xi had spent 17 years in nearby Fujian province and had enjoyed extensive interaction with Taiwanese businesspeople. He therefore knew Taiwan better than previous incoming leaders.

"He might adopt a more proactive approach to engaging with Taiwan than Hu, and not be satisfied with maintaining the cross-strait status quo," Su said.

Analysts said that Xi's approach - at least initially - would be largely defined by the report on cross-strait relations delivered by Hu at the opening of the 18th party congress on Thursday in Beijing.

Xi, who currently serves as vice-president, will also succeed Hu as president in March.

"We hope that the two sides will jointly explore cross-strait political relations and make reasonable arrangements for them under the special condition that the country is yet to be reunified," Hu said.

The general secretary also suggested that the two sides discuss setting up a mechanism to improve military ties and ensure stability.

He advocated a consultative peace process to advance the growth of cross-strait relations.

Although Xi will not have taken full power until he assumes control of the Central Military Commission, he is still expected to have had input in drafting the report and approved of its direction.

"What Hu said in his report represents the mainland's cross-strait policy direction for the future, but not its policy at the present," said Professor Chang Wu-yueh, director of the Graduate Institute of China Studies at Tamkang University in Taipei.

More than six decades after the Kuomintang fled across the Taiwan Strait in the face of the Communist Party's victory in the Chinese civil war, relations between the sides have warmed considerably.

Ma, now in his second term, has pursued a cautious path, signing 18 co-operation agreements but steering clear of the difficult political issues that continue to separate democratic Taiwan from the authoritarian mainland.

So far, Beijing - which sees reunification as the ultimate goal - has been happy to oblige, as increased ties can only add pressure for political talks. Hu's report suggests Beijing is aiming to take the dialogue to the next level.

"Political dialogue is inevitable if the next mainland leader is to achieve any of these goals," said Professor Lin Chong-pin, a former vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council. Lin now teaches international relations at Tamkang University.

Ma expressed support for a peace pact with Beijing, but said he did not believe the time would be ripe before his second term ended in 2016. He repeated the stance after Hu delivered his report, as the Presidential Office released an interview Ma had given to the Hong Kong-based newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan, in which he said a peace accord was not on his immediate agenda.

On Friday, Taiwanese Premier Sean Chen - who, like Ma, is in the KMT - weighed in as well, saying the "upgrading of cross-strait economic dialogue should still be the priority over political issues between the two sides".

One thing holding back a more aggressive push by Beijing is brewing concern about corruption, inequality, pollution and several other problems associated with the mainland's historic economic rise. Major unrest on the mainland could only make political talks less appealing to the Taiwanese.

As such, experts expect that Xi will not be able to turn serious attention towards Taiwan until after 2014.

"Xi must first deal with internal political, social and economic problems, as well as regional issues like the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea," Chang said.

But political dialogue may become increasingly unavoidable as the two sides grow more intertwined. Cai Mingzhao , a spokesman for the 18th party congress, said as much last week when he commented that the two sides would have to face political issues "sooner or later".