New head of Taiwan ties, Chen Deming, says economy takes priority

The new head of the mainland body that conducts talks with Taiwan says the push for political dialogue is also an item on his agenda

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 4:38am

The deepening of cross-strait economic co-operation and the push for political dialogue will be among the major priorities for the mainland's new top negotiator with Taiwan.

Former commerce minister Chen Deming outlined his agenda yesterday after he was named head of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats), which represents the mainland in talks with Taiwan in the absence of formal ties.

"Deepening of cross-strait economic co-operation is still the priority and focus of negotiations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait at the present stage," Chen said. His background in trade talks and economic policy is seen as the major reason why he was chosen to Arats, succeeding Chen Yunlin.

Deepening of cross-strait economic co-operation is still the priority and focus of negotiations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait at the present stage
Chen Deming

Chen Deming said he would strive to hold the ninth round of cross-strait talks in the first half of this year, during which he hoped the two sides could sign a service co-operation agreement. He also hoped talks on cargo and trade-dispute settlement agreements could be completed this year.

He echoed President Xi Jinping's call for the two sides to prepare for political dialogue with relations improving.

He said that in the development of cross-strait relations, the mainland had long supported the approach of starting with the easy part before tackling the difficult one. But "there should never be a man-made forbidden zone", he said, in an apparent reference to Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's recent statement that there would be no political talks during his term.

Ma, who has adopted a policy of engaging the mainland since becoming president in 2008, once proposed that the two sides hold peace talks, but abandoned that path after being criticised by the pro-independence camp for trying to "sell out" Taiwan.

Chen Deming said Arats supported "academic-level political dialogue" before the two sides engaged in real political talks.

Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Yu Zhengsheng said yesterday that consultations and negotiations served as the major channels for the two sides to realise peaceful relations.

He was referring to the landmark talks 20 years ago by the first Arats chairman, Wang Daohan , and his Taiwanese counterpart, Koo Chen-fu, of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), which paved the way for cross-strait rapprochement in 2008 and the signing of 18 non-political co-operation agreements in the past five years.

Arats held a board meeting yesterday to elect a new head and mark the 20th anniversary of the Wang-Koo summit, held in Singapore from April 27 to 29, 1993.

There were follow-up meetings until 1998 when an infuriated Beijing suspended all talks over pro-independence moves and rhetoric by former Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-hui, and his successor, Chen Shui-bian.

"The spirit manifested in the Wang-Koo summit was for the replacement of confrontation with dialogue and the forging of co-operation through negotiations," Yu said. "The Wang-Koo meeting still guides the development of cross-strait relations and will continue to do so."

The establishment of "de facto consulates" would be the next historic step, analysts say.

"The Ma government has started revising relevant laws to allow the establishment of representative bodies of Arats and SEF - which in a way could be seen as de facto consulates, even though the two sides have tried to avoid using that reference due to political sensitivity," said George Tsai Wei, a professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

Taipei and Beijing have acknowledged that representative offices would be a subject for negotiation in the next round of cross-strait talks.