New leaders should seek flexible definition of Taiwan, NPC deputy says

NPC deputy says new leaders must seek flexible and innovative way to clarify Taiwan's status

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 7:16am

Beijing's new leadership should devise an innovative and flexible definition of "one China" in order to clarify the mainland's relationship with the "Republic of China" (ROC), as Taiwan calls itself, a mainland cross-strait expert says.

Li Yihu, a National People's Congress deputy, said Beijing's future cross-strait policy should focus on persuading the majority of Taiwanese to acknowledge the relationship. For this to happen, a flexible and inclusive definition of "one China" is a must, he said.

"According to the [historical] facts and turn of events across the Taiwan Strait in past years, we should come up with some innovative cross-strait polices," Li, dean of Peking University's Taiwan Research Institute, said.

"It's a fact that the ROC has existed since the Kuomintang moved to Taiwan in 1949, and it's an inevitable topic that needs both sides to seek a clear consensus because cross-strait negotiation is approaching the 'deep water zone', with the 'one China' principle becoming the biggest headache and key obstacle."

Over the past two decades, cross-strait relations have developed on the platform of the "one China" principle, also known as the "1992 consensus" - a tacit understanding that both sides reached in 1992 recognising there is only one China, but allowing each side to have its own interpretation of what it means.

To Beijing, it means the People's Republic of China (PRC), and to Taipei it is the ROC - Taiwan's self-designated title.

"The mainland side is keen on tackling those obstacles … compared with Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin's 'one China' principle, Hu Jintao's interpretation of 'one China' in his report to the 18th [Communist] party congress [in November] is more flexible," Li said. "Under such a creative premise, I think the new leadership under Xi Jinping will come up with more innovative ones, which should be more flexible and inclusive to define what the ROC stands for."

Professor Chang Ya-chung, president of the Taipei-based Chinese Integration Association, said defining the "one China" principle was an urgent task for both sides.

He said Beijing's ignorance of "the existence of the ROC" had encouraged more young Taiwanese to keep their distance from a "Chinese" identity.

An opinion poll conducted by Taiwanese cable news network TVBS late last year found that 75 per cent of the 1,266 people interviewed on the island considered themselves Taiwanese, compared with 15 per cent who said they were Chinese.

In the 20 to 29 age group, 87 per cent considered themselves Taiwanese, and in the 30 to 39 age group, it was 84 per cent.

Li suggested that Beijing pay more attention to the thoughts and needs of five groups in Taiwan: the people in the southern and central regions of Taiwan, the lower middle class, the middle class, the young and middle-aged and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Li also urged Beijing and Taipei to grab the opportunity presented by tensions between China and Japan over the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Tokyo. He urged them to work together to defend Chinese maritime territory in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

"Taiwan's navy has collected a great deal of valuable historical and hydrological information about the Diaoyus and other small islets in the South and East China seas, which could become strong evidence to demolish Japan and other countries' claims over the Diaoyus and other islands and waters before an international tribunal," he said.

"For example, the legitimacy of the establishment of Sansha city on China's Yongxing Island [in the Paracels] should build on the efforts of Kuomintang lieutenant, Zhang Junran, who led a fleet that landed on it and set up a monument in 1946 … but it's a pity that both sides have so far not built a platform to share each other's information."

Several retired Taiwanese naval officers have urged Taipei to work with Beijing to defend the Diaoyus, including former defence minister Admiral Wu Shih-wen, who was sent to patrol island chains and islets in the South China Sea when he served in Taiwan's navy in the 1960s and 1980s, and Admiral Fei Horng-po, who was Taiwan's deputy chief of general staff in 2002.

But Wu and Fei said it was not "a suitable time" for such co-operation unless Beijing first clarified the legitimacy of the ROC under the "one China" framework. Beijing says the Diaoyus are Chinese territory as part of the PRC's province of Taiwan, while Taipei says the islands belong to the ROC.