SCMP Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Beijing adopts patient stance on Taiwan


Beijing yesterday signalled its readiness to show patience and understanding towards President Chen Shui-bian, a far cry from the war of words it conducted during the Taiwan leader's election campaign.

A senior mainland official, briefing foreign reporters on Taiwan policy, showed understanding of Mr Chen's domestic political constraints and drew a line between Mr Chen and Taiwanese politicians Beijing has written off as separatists, including Mr Chen's predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, and Mr Chen's Vice-President, Annette Lu Hsiu-lien.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicated that Beijing believed it could do business with Mr Chen and would be patient as his policies toward the mainland took shape.

The official repeated Beijing's view that Mr Chen's inaugural address on Saturday "lacked sincerity" because he did not embrace Beijing's cherished "one-China" principle. He said Mr Chen must "make efforts toward the goal of accepting the one-China principle, whether it takes a long time or not", as anything less would signal his intention to take Taiwan down the road towards independence.

"If Taiwan does not recognise that it is a part of China then the only conclusion you can draw is that they want to split Taiwan from the mainland," the official said. But he avoided military threats toward Taiwan or personal attacks on Mr Chen, whose Democratic Progressive Party formally advocates independence for the island of 23 million people.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council chairwoman, Tsai Ing-wen, said yesterday that Taipei and Beijing should take Mr Chen's inauguration speech as a new beginning for cross-strait relations.

But she declined to respond directly to an suggestion by Beijing that the two sides reopen dialogue between Koo Chen-fu and Wang Daohan under the so-called 1992 "consensus" over the "one-China" principle. Mr Koo and Mr Wang, special envoys appointed by Taipei and Beijing respectively to handle cross-strait matters, held their first summit in Singapore in 1993, ending four decades of animosity, but the connection was broken last summer when relations soured.

"It's too early to talk about this [Beijing's offer] now, " Ms Tsai said. "We should read President Chen's speech in its entirety, not isolate this piece or that piece. If we read the speech through a microscope, it will greatly limit our scope of interpretation."

Ms Tsai said the new Government needed time to assess the situation, and a full response to Beijing's offer would come later. She was optimistic about a planned visit by Mr Wang to Taiwan and the promotion of direct trade and transport links with the mainland but said cross-strait ties could only improve with Beijing's co-operation.

Beijing has offered to resume cross-strait dialogue if Taipei agrees to return to the 1992 "consensus" and stop pushing a claim made by Mr Lee on Taiwan's statehood.

Under the 1992 "consensus", Beijing said both sides had accepted the "one-China" principle but each side would express the agreement individually.

Ms Tsai was reluctant to elaborate on the 1992 "consensus" yesterday, but she and her colleagues hinted that Taipei would like to move forward and build on past exchanges between the two sides.