Expecting policy shift

THE cabinet reshuffle in Taiwan yesterday may have been prompted by domestic political considerations, but the implications for Taipei, Beijing and Hong Kong are of a positive nature that transcends narrower considerations.

The appointment of Vincent Siew as chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council is particularly encouraging, as it indicates Taipei will follow an increasingly pragmatic path in relations with Beijing, one that avoids anything resembling a repetition of the fiasco that surrounded Winston Chang. Mr Chang, the grandson of Chiang Kai-shek, was at death's door after suffering a stroke in Beijing, and Taipei insisted that the plane returning him to Taiwan make a stop in Hong Kong.

Taipei's considerations, however, are not limited to matters of image or humanity. President Lee Teng-hui faces Taiwan's first election by universal suffrage in 1996, and the island's electorate is clearly indicating its impatience with policies towards China that may have made sense to the Nationalists after their humiliating defeat more than four decades ago, but appear pointless now. Taipei is finding, as Washington did, that those who attempt to isolate Beijing succeed only in isolating themselves.

In the short term, direct links between Beijing and Taipei might appear negative for Hong Kong, as there would be a significant decline in the number of visitors from Taiwan. However, anything that contributed to China's development would be in Hong Kong's interests.