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Flexibility Key to Progress of Direct-link Talks
Beijing's growing flexibility in determining the difference between political and economic issues is expected to raise hopes in opening talks on the three direct links with Taiwan, leading mainland experts said Monday.

They stressed that besides scoring high political points, the mainland's strategy will put mounting pressure on Taiwan to lift its decades-old ban on cross-Straits trade, transport and postal services.

Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian's refusal to treat such links as the domestic affairs of one country on Sunday will not stop the movement from catching on, they said.

"Chances will be improved and momentum will be gained for opening the three links following Beijing's latest overture," said Professor Fan Xizhou, former director of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University.

The researcher made the comments after Chen dismissed remarks by Vice-Premier Qian Qichen that the three direct links could be opened as soon as possible provided these services were treated as domestic affairs.

When discussing and implementing the three links, the two sides do not have to address the political meaning of "one China," Qian said to dozens of visiting Taiwanese businessmen and a group of Taiwanese in favor of direct cross-Straits links. The delegation was headed by Hsu Hsin-liang, a former chairman of the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The vice-premier said on Friday that talks on the three links can go ahead as long as the Taiwan authorities allow non-governmental business organizations to be involved. He also said the issue of the three direct links is purely an economic one, arguing that it should not be affected and disrupted by politics.

Professor Fan said the mainland's flexible and pragmatic stance that Beijing and Taipei need not get involved in politics to open up direct links will further weaken Taipei's stance in maintaining the 53-year-old ban on the links.

"Beijing's open attitude in dealing with cross-Straits economic and trade issues has actually made it extremely difficult for Taiwan authorities to defend the ban for political reasons," the professor said.

He added that Chen's refusal to accept the three direct links as internal issues indicates that the ideology-minded leader is still managing to mix purely economic issues with politics.

Chen, who has refused to embrace the one-China principle cherished by Beijing that both Taiwan and the mainland are part of China, repeated Taipei's official line that no preconditions should be set for the establishment of the three links.

"If Beijing regards the three links as domestic affairs, then it means they are trying to preset conditions which should not be allowable," the DPP leader reportedly said during his trip to Malawi in Africa.

But his recent comments do not rule out the possibility of entering into talks with the mainland on realizing the three links in a limited way and within a certain framework, Professor Fan said.

"It is very obvious that Chen has still left the door open (for negotiating with the mainland) although he stands firm on the political front," he said, adding that support for the opening of the three links is gaining ground within the ruling DPP.

Chen said on May 9 that the establishment of the links is "a road we must take," and his administration will consider allowing private groups to negotiate directly with the mainland on opening the three links.

But Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher with the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned against two uncertain factors that could cloud the establishment of the three links.

One is the planned amendments to the Statute Governing the Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area in Taiwan's "parliament" in November.

The proposed amendments will be put forth by the opposition Kuomintang and People First Party, who call for the three links to be "allowed in principle" instead of being "forbidden in principle" which the current Statute reads. If this passes, it may pave the way for opening the links through legislation, Li said.

"If the legislation goes smoothly and finally produces positive results, it may create a new chance and a turning point for the implementation of the three links," he noted.

"But if the legislative move turns out to be just a political wrangle and bickering between opposition parties and the DPP, the final result will be hard to predict."

The researcher said another more unpredictable factor is Washington's influence in the development of cross-Straits relations.

As history has proven, Li said, the United States has affected the direction of cross-Straits relations every time bilateral ties turn for the better in a bid to put Taiwan under its own control.

"We need more time to observe how this matter (the establishment of three links) may evolve given the fact that it is still unclear what Washington will do, whether overly or covertly, on this issue," he said.

(China Daily July 9, 2002)

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