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Taiwan's main opposition DPP warming to Beijing

Spate of trips to mainland by top figures in island's main opposition party signals it wants to improve relations with the central government, say analysts


A flurry of mainland visits by prominent members of Taiwan's main political opposition group this month reflects what some analysts say is a softening of the pro-independence party's anti-Beijing stance.

And it may also signal that Beijing is taking a more practical approach in dealing with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), following the presidential election on the island in January that saw the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen lose a close race to incumbent leader Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT).

On August 1, DPP stalwart Hong Chi-chang arrived on the mainland in what Taiwanese media described as a "water-testing trip", leading a six-member delegation for a seminar to discuss cross-strait relations.

The event was hosted by Beijing's Taiwan Research Institute under the China Academy of Social Sciences.

Coming on the heels of Hong's visit were others by DPP legislator Hsiao Bi-khim, who heads the party's international affairs department, and by legislator Lin Chia-lung, who recently attended think-tank seminars in Shanghai. Both met with mainland academics and local officials.

Other prominent DPP members also visited, including a county magistrate who conducted a market survey on the mainland.

The spate of mainland trips came after the DPP decided on July 25 to reinstate its long-disbanded "China Affairs Department" hoping to improve the party's relationship with the mainland after the January election defeat.

Many voters questioned the party's ability to maintain the cross-strait stability achieved by the KMT, and pundits attributed that to the DPP's loss, prompting Su Tseng-chang, who became the party's chairman in May, to increase contact with the mainland.

"That is the reason the DPP wants to revise its stance - to convince the public that it is paying attention to cross-strait affairs and is capable of maintaining cross-strait ties," said Hsu Yung-ming, an associate professor of political science at Soochow University in Taipei.

Hsu said Su was trying to take a more pragmatic approach to handling cross-strait affairs, and progress had been seen, with the DPP allowing its officials to visit the mainland privately, and a DPP legislator recently proposing that students from the mainland be allowed to be covered in Taiwan's compulsory national health insurance scheme.

The party used to heavily restrict mainland visits by its senior officials, allowing such trips by only lower-level authorities or members who did not hold party posts.

Wu Ping-li, a DPP legislator seen as Su's confidant, was the one who proposed that mainland students be covered in the health programme while studying in Taiwan, citing humanitarian concerns.

Although his proposal was shot down by the party, due to strong opposition from radical pro-independence factions, Hsu said it reflected Su's practical attitude towards cross-strait affairs.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: DPP's stance against Beijing softening