Friday, June 12, 2009

A New Era for Taiwan-PRC Relations, a panel discussion

On May 28th, a panel of distinguished speakers discussed the new era of Taiwan-PRC relations to a packed conference room at the influential K & L Gates Law Office in downtown San Francisco. The evening began with a reception at 5:30 pm.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Robert Kapp, president of Robert A. Kapp and Associates, who offered some insights and humorous anecdotes from his days in Washington, DC and his experience as the president of the US-China Business Council. Speaking of cross-strait relations, Kapp said, “We talk and write, but measured changes have been slow, but that is not the case now.” He introduced each panelist (Dr. Chien-Min Chao, Prof. Chong-pin Lin and Prof. Lowell Dittmer) and allowed each to speak before the Q&A.

Dr. Chien-Min Chao, Deputy Minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, was the first panelist to speak. Chao pointed out that the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait used to be the two flashpoints in Asia, however within one year, this has changed. While Korea is brimming with problems, Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang chairman Po-hsiung Wu was visiting China. Chao continued by summarizing the inroads made by Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits in hammering out critical agreements for smoother relations. With more relaxed travel regulations between the two countries, PRC visitors have now made more than 600,000 trips to Taiwan.

Despite friendlier relations there is still danger. China’s People’s Liberation Army continues to increase its budget and upgrade its military. While striving for stabilization and normalization of relations with China, Taiwan has taken a cautious step in advocating the “3 Noes” – no unification, no independence and no use of force. The reality is that Taiwan does more business with China than with Japan and the United States, so any joint agreements to iron out juridical, economic and banking cooperation would be beneficial for both sides.

Prof. Chong-pin Lin of the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, Tamkang University (Taipei) and a former Deputy Minister of Defense spoke next. As a close observer of cross-strait relations, he predicted cross-strait détente outlined by seven milestones. Out of his seven predictions made in July 2006, five have already come to pass – (1) both sides would establish liaison offices, (2) direct transportation links across the Strait would be launched, (3) Taiwan would emphasize substantive diplomacy, (4) cross-strait military tensions would decline and (5) the DPP may reorient its attitude and policy toward China under the new cross-strait relations. Lin also predicts a cultural boom in the mainland with Taiwan’s creative industries (i.e. feature films, entertainment programs) playing an important role as a catalyst, and that Taiwan’s democracy will gradually alter the mainland. Time will tell if the latter two predictions also prove correct.

Nevertheless, Lin feels that China is moving toward more freedom. He believes China will look towards Taiwan and think, "If Taiwan can , why can't we?" Although China’s democratic transformation might not be a US-style model, but more akin to a Singaporean-style model.

Prof. Lowell Dittmer of the Political Science Department at the University of California-Berkeley, followed with his explanation on the logic of strategic alliances through the triangular relationship. He also touched on the new nationalism on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. With the demise of Communism, Nationalism has replaced Marxism-Leninism. On Taiwan’s side, there is a sub-ethnic split as a result of those families who have been living in Taiwan for centuries being suspicious of mainlanders who came to Taiwan in the period 1949-1971. This distrust has created a domestic rift.

Dittmer also spoke on the problematic security dimension for Taiwan. Since the end of the Cold War, China’s defense spending has gone up and up, while Taiwan’s has shrunk. Détente between Taiwan and China serves to postpone, not solve, the security problems existing in cross-strait relations.

The Asia Society, along with the University of San Francisco’s Center for the Pacific Rim, University of California’s (Berkeley) Institute of East Asian Studies, and the World Affairs Council of Northern California, hosted the panel discussion.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.