Taipei ‘foiled in bid to open back channel to Beijing’

Former premier of island says attempt to establish contacts without endorsing 1992 consensus was rebuffed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 11:24pm

Taiwan’s independence-leaning government under President Tsai Ing-wen has tried to open “back door” communications channels with Beijing since formal ties were severed last year, but the efforts have proved fruitless, according to a former premier of the island.

Jiang Yi-huah said Tsai’s government had hoped to establish contacts with Beijing without the precondition of acknowledging the so-called 1992 consensus, but the mainland government has ­refused to give ground.

The consensus is a long-standing agreement between the mainland and Taiwan that there is only one China, but that both sides can have their own interpretation of what constitutes “China”.

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Tsai has not publicly endorsed the consensus since her election victory in January of last year.

Jiang, who served as Taiwan’s premier from 2013 to 2014 and is now a professor at City University of Hong Kong, said: “From what I’ve heard from my friends in both the blue and green camps, unofficial communication channels exist. Until now, Taipei hasn’t made any breakthrough.”

“Blue” generally refers to Beijing loyalists in Taiwan, while the green camp includes independence-leaning politicians.

Jiang declined to name the people trying to forge ties with Beijing, adding that they generally did not have formal authorisation from Tsai’s government to approach mainland officials.

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman at the Taiwan Affairs Office under the State Council on the mainland, said last year that all cross-strait communications must be conducted on the basis of the 1992 consensus.

Ma also said exchanges between the two sides’ institutions could only be continued if the one-China policy was recognised.

Ties between the mainland and Taiwan have been strained since Tsai’s election victory, and the lack of direct contact is adding to tensions across the Taiwan Strait, according to observers.

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Further strain was created after then US president-elect Donald Trump took a phone call from Tsai last December to congratulate him on his election victory, breaking decades of diplomatic protocol limiting contacts between the US and Taiwan.

Tensions were eased after the US president spoke to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and gave assurances that Washington would still adhere to the one-China policy.

President Tsai said in an interview with The Washington Post in July last year that Taiwan had “always had diverse channels of communication across the strait”.

“These include not just official communications but also people-to-people contacts,” Tsai was quoted as saying.

Beijing, however, has given her administration the cold shoulder since last year’s election. It invited Hung Hsiu-chu, the chairwoman of the opposition and Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, to visit the mainland last October, but did not extend an invitation to a member of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party.

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Beijing has also broken an unofficial diplomatic truce with Taiwan that began under its former president Ma Ying-jeou’s government, and has resumed attempts to woo away the island’s few allies overseas.

Beijing re-established ties with Sao Tome and Principe in December, days after the small West African state broke off relations with Taiwan.

“The loss of allies is certainly a loss of face for Taiwan’s government, but in essence the diplomatic war will only reinforce the image that Beijing wants to squeeze Taipei out of even a tiny international space, making Taiwanese dislike Beijing more,” said Jiang.

Beijing and Taipei have endured enmity since Nationalist forces lost the civil war to communist troops on the mainland in 1949 and fled to Taiwan.

Ties thawed temporarily after ex-president Ma’s Beijing-friendly administration took office in 2008.