A former chairman of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, arrived in Hong Kong yesterday for a high-profile forum that analysts say could pave the way for future dialogue between the pro-independence party and Beijing.
On his arrival, Hsieh said he was in a good mood because he was doing the right thing. He attended a banquet last night hosted by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, who said Hong Kong was willing to be a bridge across the straits.
But some warn that Hsieh's move could intensify a rift within the DPP over cross-strait policy and delay indefinitely talks between it and the Communist Party.
Hsieh's Taiwan Reform Foundation, organiser of the two-day forum, said prominent DPP members and Taiwanese cross-strait experts would discuss ways to narrow differences between Taipei and Beijing with senior mainland officials and scholars.
Hsieh would lead a 29-member delegation of DPP legislators, local councillors and academics and deliver a keynote speech at the forum, which starts today, the foundation said.
Yu Keli , director of the Beijing-based Taiwan Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a co-sponsor of the event, would also address the forum, the largest to involve DPP and mainland representatives. Twenty-three mainlanders, including Sun Yafu , deputy director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, other ministry officials and academics, would attend.
Analysts said such a high-profile discussion was rare, given Beijing's policy of not dealing with advocates of Taiwanese independence. However, in recent years Beijing has seen the need to increase contacts with the DPP, which ruled from 2000 to 2008, as it could return to power in the presidential election in 2016.
"This is especially true since Xi Jinping - well versed in Taiwan affairs - took over from Hu Jintao as mainland president in March," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political scientist at Soochow University in Taipei.
At a cross-strait forum in Xiamen earlier this month, Yu Zhengsheng , chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, extended an olive branch to pro-independence supporters willing to soften their stance and said the Communist Party welcomed them visiting the mainland.
Analysts said the Taiwan Research Institute's role in co-hosting the forum reflected the new mainland leadership's desire to learn more about the DPP.
"The forum can be viewed as a quasi-dialogue between the DPP and the Communist Party that may pave the way for formal dialogue in the future," said Professor Tung Chen-yuan, from National Chengchi University's Institute of Development Studies. But Hsieh did not represent the DPP as a whole, Tung said, and with other party bigwigs divided over the direction of its cross-strait policy, it remained to be seen whether formal dialogue could take place soon.
At a news conference on Monday, Hsieh stressed that the forum was not a form of political dialogue but an attempt to balance cross-strait communications, which had been restricted to the Communist Party and Taiwan's Kuomintang since President Ma Ying-jeou, who is also KMT chairman, took office in 2008. Analysts said Beijing was willing to reach out to Hsieh because he was one of the DPP heavyweights with the most conciliatory attitude towards it.
"But many within the DPP, including incumbent chairman Su Tseng-chang, view the party's cross-strait policy differently from Hsieh," said George Tsai Wei, a cross-strait expert at Chinese Culture University in Taipei. "The forum will only lead to a further deterioration in their relations and intensify their rift."
Hsieh has proposed the DPP embrace a more moderate policy by accepting a "two sides, two constitutions" formula - which would see each side recognise the legitimacy of the other's constitutions and strengthen ties.