State of the Strait, 08: Beijing-Taipei Dialogues

By Phillip Charlier

As 2008 draws to a close it’s worth looking at the results of the first nine months of the Chinese Nationalist Party administration on Taiwan and the state of cross-strait relations. Having ousted the Democratic People’s Party based largely on voter’s disgust at massive corruption scandals, the Nationalist Party has also had to face a wary electorate who, while hoping for greater economic ties with the PRC, were also nervous of the political consequences.
The state of the cross-strait relationship is as follows:
1. Dialogue

The first round of the cross-strait dialogue opened in June when Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung held talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing. This marked the first cross-strait dialogue in nine years.

November witnessed a reciprocal visit by Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin, which sparked emotive protests by independence activists in Taipei. The protests and heavy handed police response and use of controversial police powers of detention have spawned an ongoing protest movement who call themselves ‘The Wild Strawberries’ who continue to occupy Liberty Square at the time of writing.

Between the first and second round of the dialogues, former vice president Lien Chan met Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC leaders’ summit in Lima on November 23, marking the first time such senior Taiwanese and Chinese leaders have met at an international event. Hu and Lien met as party chairmen, rather than heads of state, therefore bypassing issues of sovereignty.

The dialogues have led to an agreement to launch direct shipping, postal services and daily charter flights starting Dec 15.

2. Charter Flights

Weekend charter flights were inaugurated in July. For the first time since 1949, citizens of both countries were able to fly across the strait without landing in a third country. From December 15 these flights will be available daily.

3. Access to the China Market

Greater access to the China market has been facilitated for Taiwan products. The latest product to hit the shelves on ‘the mainland’ is Taiwan Beer which is manufactured by the Taiwan Tobacco and Alcohol Corporation and will be available in China next year.

Fruit farmers are about to benefit from the direct maritime links beginning on December 15. Orange farmers who have been suffering from poor prices due to over-production and bumper crops will be able to get prices more than double what they would get on the domestic market.

Direct Maritime links mean ships won’t have to visit a third party port for a stamp. Ma Ying Jeou told the Washington post yesterday that direct maritime links would save traders $5000 to $10 000 (US) per voyage.

4. Panda’s for Taiwan

Two pandas have been promised and are expected to arrive in Taipei before Christmas. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin estimates that the pandas will attract 6 million visitors a year to Taipei Zoo, eclipsing the Koala fever which saw an annual 5 million visitors in the first years of their residence. Beijing offered the pandas in 2005 but the offer was rejected by the DPP administration. Taiwan will reciprocate with a pair of Formosan serow and a pair of Formosan sika deer.

Sources: China Post, Central News Agency, Taipei Times, Taiwan News, Washington Post.