The People's Liberation Army responded for the first time yesterday to Taiwan's request that more than 1,000 missiles targeting the island be withdrawn, saying their removal could be considered if the 'one-China' principle was upheld.
'It's not difficult for [Beijing] to remove missiles if both parties stick to the 'one-China' policy,' Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng , a spokesman for the defence ministry in Beijing told Taiwanese reporters during a press conference. 'Under the 'one-China' policy, [compatriots] on both sides are part of the same family.'
The 'one-China' principle, agreed to at a cross-strait meeting in Hong Kong in 1992, is an understanding that there is only 'one China', but that each side has its own interpretation of what that constitutes.
Geng said Beijing would agree to discuss military security and mutual trust across the Taiwan Strait 'at a proper time' to maintain stability in the region, Xinhua reported.
'Discussions would focus on the establishment of military security and mutual-trust mechanisms.'
Geng said preparations for the cross-strait security mutual trust framework 'should start from the easy topics and go through step by step'. He added: 'Peaceful development of cross-strait relations conforms to the fundamental interests of people on both sides and represents their common aspirations.'
The military's statement was the first response to Taiwan's request that the missiles be dismantled, which Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who has been conducting a Beijing-friendly policy, has suggested since taking office in May 2008.
A former deputy defence minister in Taiwan, Lin Chong-pin, said Geng's speech had hinted that Beijing would reconsider its missile-threat policy against the island.
'Meanwhile, Beijing will also soon come out with a new definition of the Republic of China, aimed at boosting the low popularity of President Ma Ying-jeou,' Lin said.
The latest opinion poll conducted by the Taipei-based Global Views Research Survey Centre, which is run by the Common Wealth Magazine Group, shows that Ma's public support is running at 46.1 per cent, while the chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Dr Tsai Ing-wen, has 50.8 per cent.
'Beijing realises the current critical situation of Ma's administration, which shows that it's very possible for President Ma to lose the presidential election in 2012,' Lin said.
'Indeed, nearly 70 per cent of the Taiwan public oppose cross-strait reunification, this is the record high in history, even though nearly 50 per cent supported the ruling Kuomintang signing the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with Beijing.'
Lin said Beijing and Ma's efforts to improve cross-strait relations would be ruined if the DPP won the next presidential election in Taiwan. After the signing of the ECFA, both sides were trying their best to start military dialogue, Lin said. 'In fact, building a cross-strait military mutual-trust framework will also benefit Beijing's long-term strategy of reunification.'
Last month, military experts from Taiwan and the mainland met in Beijing at a seminar on the development of cross-strait peace and military confidence-building measures. It was seen as a step to increase understanding and mutual trust on how the two sides should form confidence-building measures before reaching a peace accord.
Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military analyst, said that a warm cross-strait relationship would help the PLA to concentrate on defending its core national interests in the Yellow Sea and the disputed South China Sea.
'The PLA is now busy coping with the military drills in the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea, where our national core interests are challenged by the US,' Ni said. 'When we're dealing with such knotty events involving the powerful US, we had better not bring Taiwan to the boil. So I believe it's possible for Beijing to show some friendly signals to the island in the future.'