Shanghai delegation to Taipei marks new wave of cross-strait cooperation

  • Mainland-friendly cities following Taiwan’s ruling party defeat in local elections provide an opportunity for new ties
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 12:16pm

Shanghai’s executive vice-mayor and 130 delegates from the mainland city arrived in Taipei on Wednesday to kick off a new wave of exchanges across the Taiwan Strait, following the recent election defeat of the self-ruled island’s pro-independence party.

Zhou Bo is the highest ranking official to attend the annual Shanghai-Taipei Forum in recent years, which has been a more low key event due to political tensions between Taiwan and the mainland.

On his arrival at Taipei Songshan Airport, Zhou said he was looking forward to a fruitful result at the end of the forum on Thursday.

“The Shanghai-Taipei Forum is the most important institutionalised platform for business exchange and cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and is a model for cross-strait city-to-city exchanges and cooperation,” he said.

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Zhou’s visit was overshadowed by a small group of pro-independence activists, who shouted “oppose the 1992 consensus”, “reject entry of the Chinese communists”, and “Taiwan and China are two countries on each side of the Taiwan Strait”, outside the airport.

The protesters, who were prevented from approaching Zhou and his delegation in the arrival hall, waved pro-independence banners and briefly scuffled with police as they attempted to chase the vice-mayor as he was whisked away via motorcade to his hotel.

Zhou’s visit was made possible by the crushing defeat for the ruling independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan’s local government elections.

The November ballot saw the mainland-friendly opposition Kuomintang (KMT) take control of 15 of Taiwan’s 22 cities and counties, including the DPP stronghold of Kaohsiung, a special municipality in southern Taiwan.

Cross-strait relations turned sour in 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP was elected president and refused to accept the one-China principle, established in the 1992 consensus – which says there is only one China, although each side can interpret what that means.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, suspended official exchanges with the island and staged a series of war games to try to intimidate Taipei.

It also poached five of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in a further bid to try and force Tsai to accept the principle, which Beijing insists must be the political foundation for the resumption of official cross-strait exchanges.

Before departing Shanghai, Zhou told reporters that he welcomed the idea of cooperation between Shanghai and other Taiwanese cities, including Kaohsiung.

He said he would also encourage more citizens from Shanghai and other mainland cities to visit Taiwanese cities and counties, as long as their local governments supported the 1992 consensus.

In the afternoon, Zhou visited a science park on the outskirts of Taipei and later attended a dinner hosted by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, and they agreed the two sides should continue to develop their relations and exchanges.

In a speech that likely displeased the DPP government, Ko told his guests from Shanghai that cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges had become inseparable since they opened up more than 30 years ago, and the two sides must continue their peaceful development.

“The Shanghai-Taipei Forum can become a model of peaceful development for the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as long as they have mutual recognition, understanding, respect, cooperation and trust based on the spirit of being one family on each side of the Taiwan Strait,” Ko said. He added that, with this in mind, the two sides could focus on economic development rather than politics.

In response, Zhou said: “I hope people from the two sides can treasure their friendship based on the spirit that the two sides are one family on each side of the Taiwan Strait.”

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Zhou was due to attend the opening ceremony of the one-day forum – on the theme of a circular economy and other cooperation projects – on Thursday before returning to Shanghai in the afternoon. Some 250 experts, scholars, and city government officials were expected to join the Shanghai group for the forum during which the two sides were due to sign three cooperation agreements on athletic, economic and broadcasting exchanges.

Chen Ming-tung, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the island’s top mainland policy planner, offered his blessing to the cooperation between the two cities, but urged them to “focus more on the economy instead of politics”, a statement analysts said represented an olive branch from the Tsai government following its defeat in the local polls.

“The Tsai government hopes for an improvement in cross-strait relations after more than two years of impasse, but the high-profile visit by the Shanghai delegation does not represent a change in the mainland’s policy towards Taiwan,” said Wang Kung-yi, a political-science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

Beijing had merely adjusted its approach to dealing with Taiwan following the KMT’s landslide victory, in the hope of increasing economic exchanges with KMT-held cities and counties to affect the cross-strait policy of the Tsai government, he said.

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A day before Zhou’s visit, the mainland resumed its military intimidation of the island by flying Xian H-6 bombers, Shaanxi-Y-8 transport aircraft and Sukhoi-30 fighter jets from Huiyang airbase in Guangdong province over waters near Taiwan.

The island’s defence ministry said that as well as the jets it detected two mainland combat ships sailing outside Taiwan’s air defence identification zone off the southeastern coast.