Reunion process gathers speed

THE pace of recent developments between China and Taiwan on the issue of closer economic co-operation and reunification appears to be speeding up.

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, China's policy on Taiwan can be classified into four generations - liberation by force, peaceful liberation, Deng Xiaoping's one-country two-systems approach, and the most recent thinking - a 'One China' to be achieved by peaceful reunification - highlighted by President Jiang Zemin's Lunar New Year speech.

Meanwhile, the Taiwanese Government has prohibited all direct contact with the mainland, including economic ties such as external trade and direct investment, since the end of the civil war in 1949.

But a milestone was reached in 1993 when Wang Daohan, chairman of the mainland Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, and Koo Chen-fu, chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, met for talks in Singapore.

Despite a lack of tangible progress from the meeting, the two agreed to meet again in the near future.

This meeting will become particularly important in view of Mr Jiang's statement on relations between the two countries, and the subsequent six-point reply by Taiwan's president.

In his Lunar New Year speech, Mr Jiang listed eight points, including a push for 'One China' with cross-strait talks aimed at peaceful reunification of the two countries - although he ruled out a 'two-China' policy.

He promoted strong economic ties and pragmatic steps for establishment of the 'three communications' - air, sea and mail - and welcomed meetings between officials of the two countries.

In his response, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui also pushed for bilateral trade to be expanded and economic ties strengthened.

Although the statements by both sides are still at an early stage, the propositions do provide a new way to deal with the complex issue of political and economic co-operation across the strait.

In light of these statements, the next meeting between Mr Wang and Mr Koo marks not only a continuation of official contacts after a two-year pause but also, given Mr Lee's reply, indicates that closer economic co-operation is likely to be a key item on the agenda.

While closer economic co-operation will improve growth prospects for both countries, it also might help facilitate better political development.