A decision by Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party to reinstate its 'China affairs department' has been seen as an important step for the pro-independence party to try to reach out to the mainland.
But analysts said the DPP would face difficulties bringing significant change to its relationship with Beijing. Re-opening the office should instead be aimed more at canvassing support from swing voters than engaging Beijing, they said.
In a central standing committee meeting on Wednesday, the DPP approved a proposal by its newly elected chairman, Su Tseng-chang, to reinstate the 'China affairs department'.
The DPP shut it down in 2007 when then-chairman Yu Shyi-kun adopted a 'normal country resolution' and merged the department with the international affairs department. This was done to highlight a proposal by then-president Chen Shui-bian, who viewed Taiwan and the mainland as separate countries on different sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Su, elected chairman in May after his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen resigned as penance for her defeat in the presidential election earlier this year, said that in a constantly changing world, it was necessary for the DPP to evolve in its approach to cross-strait ties.
He said the reopening of the office was intended as a goodwill gesture but it could also help the DPP fine-tune its approach to the mainland without compromising its existing core values.
The DPP would form a commission to discuss and formulate cross-strait policies, Su said.
To increase understanding and exchanges with the mainland, Hung Chi-chang, a stalwart of the DPP's New Tide faction, will lead a six-member delegation to the mainland early next month at the invitation of the mainland's top government think tank.
Yu Keli, director of the Taiwan Research Institute under the China Academy of Social Science, invited Hung, who had headed Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation - the semi-official body set up by Taiwanese government for its dealings with the mainland - to take part in a seminar that would include members of mainland think tanks.
Yu's institute has been known to accurately reflect the views of mainland leaders. Other DPP members invited include Bill Chang, former deputy director of the 'China affairs department' before it closed in 2007, and Yang Chih-heng, an ex-member of Taiwan's National Security Council during the DPP administration.
Political commentator Lin Cho-shui, a former DPP legislator, said the opening of the office represented an important opportunity for the DPP to adjust its anti-Beijing stance: 'Chen Shui-bian led the DPP to embrace radical pro-independence. He believed the DPP's serious setback in local government elections in 2005 stemmed from his adoption of a middle-of-the-road stance towards cross-strait affairs.'
This escalated tension between the two sides, and created tensions with other countries that encouraged instability in the region, Lin said.
Chen's move also eroded public trust in him and his government, he said. 'Therefore it is a good move to reinstate the China affairs department to show that the DPP wants to adjust its stance.'
Tsai Wang-chuan, the DPP's Tainan city committee director, said he hoped the department could become a communication platform between the DPP and the mainland, so that the two sides could understand each other better and work out their differences.
'But whether the department can fulfil this task hinges on Beijing,' Tsai said. Beijing has long insisted the DPP drop its pro-independence stance and view of 'one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait' before it will open dialogue with the DPP.
Shortly after the announcement about the office, Beijing said it took note of the DPP's desire to foster better relations. 'But if the DPP insists on its so-called 'one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait' proposal, we will firmly oppose it. This has long been our stand,' said Yang Yi , spokesman of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing.
Wang Kung-yi, a professor at the Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said the DPP was unlikely to drop its pro-independence platform in exchange for dialogue and improved ties with the mainland.
'The DPP may soften its cross-strait policy, but it is unlikely it would drop the platform, not only because the hard-line faction would be strongly against it, but the platform forms the core value of the party,' Wang said.
Chang Jung-kung, former director of the mainland affairs department of the Kuomintang, questioned the DPP's move, saying that unless it changed its core beliefs on Taiwan's independence, Beijing would not agree to talks. 'So the reinstatement could amount to only a change in the DPP's cross-strait strategies in dealing with the mainland,' Chang said.