Zhang's agenda during visit to Taiwain indicates growing clout of DPP

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:41am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:41am

The agenda of the mainland's cross-straits ambassador, Zhang Zhijun, on his visit to Taiwan signals the growing clout of the island's main opposition party.

During his trip, which starts today, Zhang is scheduled to meet Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu, a founding member of the Democratic Progressive Party, in southern Taiwan.

What's more, DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen told the media that she was willing to meet Zhang at the the party's headquarters without any preconditions. The party has said that it "holds positive views about active normalisation of cross-strait relations".

Tsai is a likely DPP candidate for the 2016 presidential race. "Tsai has sensed that she needs to make adjustments to the party's cross-strait policy to increase her chances in the 2016 presidential elections," said Ma Chun-chieh, an associate professor of administrative management at National University of Tainan in southern Taiwan.

Unlike her predecessors, Tsai was willing to make concessions, Ma said.

There have been proposals from some DPP stalwarts for the party to drop its pro-independence platform, including a recent petition signed by more than 40 DPP scholars and party leaders, in an attempt to increase public support for the party.

The DPP's recent tactics contrast sharply with calls for mass protests against a trip by the mainland's top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen Yunlin , when he first visited the island in 2008. Chen was at one point forced to stay at a Taipei hotel for hours after having dinner with Kuomintang officials because of the violent protest outside the hotel.

Lin Chong-bin, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said Beijing had increasingly perceived that the Kuomintang no longer enjoyed the upper hand in charting cross-strait policy, as evident by a wave of protests by local civic groups and students this spring.

"This explains why the mainland is willing to spend more resources in communicating with the DPP," he said.

When Ma Ying-jeou of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang became president in 2008, he vowed to engage with Beijing.

Beijing has argued that the future of Taiwan should be decided by all Chinese people, including those from the island. In a news conference two weeks ago, Fan Liqing, spokeswoman from Zhang's office, irritated the Taiwanese public by reiterating the mainland's stance.

But this does not discourage Tsai, who had called for a review of the party's cross-strait policy following her defeat by Ma in his re-election race in 2012. Inability to maintain cross-strait stability had been cited as a major reason for Tsai's defeat, as the DPP has often been associated with anti-mainland views.

Yu Zhengsheng , chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said in a recent speech at the sixth Cross-Strait Forum in Xiamen that the mainland would show more respect and understanding towards Taiwanese identification with the current social system, values and lifestyle.

His comment fell in line with President Xi Jinping's directives to expand mainland contacts with people in Taiwan.