Some positive factors have emerged in Taiwan to help contain secessionist activities since the National People's Congress passed the Anti-Secession Law in March. Cross-Straits relations, however, still face uncertainty as Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration may continue their push for "Taiwan independence."
By codifying Beijing's long-standing policy of promoting the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the motherland, the Anti-Secession Law demonstrates the mainland's maximum sincerity in striving for a peaceful reunification. Meanwhile, the bill also shows the common will and strong determination of the entire Chinese nation to safeguard the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity by stipulating the employment of non-peaceful means as a last resort to stopping Taiwan's secession from the motherland under any name or by any means.
The dual message sent by the law has had some impact on different political forces in Taiwan, although the DPP and other secessionist groups have tried to distort the Anti-Secession Law as "a war mobilization order" and "a blank cheque" for "annexing" Taiwan in order to misguide the public. As a result, delicate changes have taken place in Taiwan's political atmosphere.
For the first time since Chen came to power on May 20, 2000, his pro-independence push has met with real challenges on the island. The promotion of "Taiwan independence" used to be the main criteria for evaluating political correctness on the island due to the strong ideology of the pro-independence DPP administration. Out of fear of the Taiwan authorities' political pressure, most people chose to keep silent on the DPP's rampant pro-independence push and some were even forced to side with secessionist forces.
With an emerging consensus that the promotion of "Taiwan independence" is a dead-end, more and more Taiwanese people have begun to speak up against the DPP administration's pursuit of secession at the cost of the fundamental interests and welfare of the Taiwanese public.
The island's two main opposition parties, the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party, made it clear that it was secessionist forces, as well as their secessionist activities, that had led to the enactment of the Anti-Secession Law. While urging a rational response to the law, they have vowed to take concrete steps to ease tension in cross-Straits ties.
The first encouraging sign came when the KMT sent its first official 34-member delegation to the mainland in 56 years. Amid harsh criticism from the DPP and other secessionist groups, Vice-Chairman P.K. Chiang and other KMT members made the historic mainland visit between March 28 and April 1.
The courageous and resolute move contrasted with the party's ambiguous attitude towards issues concerning reunification and independence in last year's "presidential" elections. Before the polls on March 20, 2004, the KMT backed down on its long-standing support for ultimate reunification between Taiwan and the mainland, saying the option of an independent Taiwan could not be ruled out.
Besides paying their respects to KMT martyrs and party founder Sun Yat-sen, the KMT group focused on strengthening cross-Straits economic and trade exchanges on their visit to the mainland. They talked with mainland departments and reached a 10-point consensus on a wide range of issues, including the establishment of regular charter flights and the sale of Taiwan's agricultural products on the mainland. The agreement conforms to the needs of the public and the business community and is vital to reviving the island's sagging economy.
What's more significant, Chiang's visit formally opened party-to-party dialogue between the KMT and the Communist Party of China (CPC). Such inter-party consultation is set to become a new channel for cross-Straits exchange, given the current stalemate in bilateral ties.
The "ice-breaking" trip, as Chiang claimed, has built a bridge between both sides of the Straits to help promote reconciliation. As KMT Chairman Lien Chan has accepted Beijing's invitation to visit the mainland, it is hoped more positive interaction will be followed to help maintain cross-Straits peace and stability.
Another change has taken place among business leaders who used to throw their weight behind Chen. In various ways, these influential tycoons have expressed their determination to isolate themselves from the pro-independence pan-green camp formed by the DPP and hardline Taiwan Solidarity Union.
Ahead of a massive rally organized by the DPP to protest against the Anti-Secession Law on March 26, Hsu Wen-lung, who had supported Chen's "presidential" bid in 2000, issued a statement warning that "Taiwan independence" could lead to war.
"I believe Taiwan's economic development can't be separated from the mainland. Taiwan independence will only lead Taiwan to war and drag the people into disaster," said the founder of the Chi Mei Group, one of the island's largest conglomerates. Hsu endorsed the passage of the Anti-Secession Law and the "one-China principle" that state that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China. Stan Shih, chairman of Acer Group, also announced his intention to quit his role as Chen's "national adviser."
These moves have apparently dealt a heavy blow to Chen and the pro-independence pan-green camp. They demonstrate the business circle's strong dissatisfaction with and disappointment over the DPP administration's preoccupation with a secessionist agenda that disregards the island's economic development.
In face of these challenging changes, even the DPP has had to adjust its strategy. In order to consolidate its power base, the ruling party has had to back away from the radical pro-independence stance and return to the "middle road."
Although the DPP branded the KMT's mainland visit "a trip of surrender" to sell out Taiwan, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang said he himself expects a possible visit to the mainland in his capacity as chairman of the ruling party.
While there is no denying that these positive factors will help check and curb secessionist activities, the struggle against secessionist forces remains stark and complex.
If the DPP administration continues to push for independence and provoke confrontation across the Straits, bilateral ties will suffer sustained tension and volatile turbulence, and could be brought again to the brink of danger. Only by effectively checking and curbing secessionist activities can cross-Straits ties develop in a peaceful and stable way.
(China Daily April 11, 2005)