China Forum #95: Recent Developments in China-Taiwan Relations

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China Forum #95: Recent Developments in China-Taiwan Relations

hello and welcome to China forum the leading program for discussing the latest in trends and development in modern Chinese culture politics economics and social issues my name is Madeleine federally and I will be your moderator for our program today today on China forum we will discussing recent developments in China Taiwan Relations we are happy to welcome our guest today dr. Richard Bush dr. Bush is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where he holds the chin foo and Cecilia yangu chair in Taiwan studies and directs the sent the Center for East Asia policy studies prior to working at the Brookings Institution dr. Bush served with the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the US intelligence community and the state department dr. Bush has also written extensively on northeast asian policy his books include uncharted straight the future of China Taiwan Relations the perils of proximity China Japan security relations and untying the knot making peace in the Taiwan Strait dr. budge thank you for being here today sure to start us off in October 2013 at the APEC summit in Bali President Xi Jingping remarked to the former Taiwanese vice president that Beijing and Taipei must begin taking steps to close the political divide between them this was the first time President Xi publicly indicated a desire to tackle the cross-strait issue during his tenure moreover at this APEC summit president she stated that the cross-strait political issue must reach a final resolution and cannot be continued to be passed on from generation to generation to start us off can you provide us with some background information regarding China’s policy towards Taiwan and why this information from President Xi is significant well again it’s nice to be with you China’s goal with respect to Taiwan is to bring about unification under the one country two systems formula but it has decided properly I think to pursue a very incremental approach to getting there and right now we are in the phase of peaceful development not moving towards peaceful unification moreover China has decided to focus first on easy issues and then do hard issues easy issues by and large or economic issues where there’s mutual benefit from both sides political issues get closer to the sorts of things that have to be discussed when there’s any talk of unification there has been some pressure within China and from China to move from economic issues to political issues and I think president she’s a statement it’s a kind of signal to Taiwan that Beijing can’t wait forever I think it’s also a signal to people in China that the government has not yet not forgotten that the ultimate goal is unification and that’s the problem with any sort of incremental negotiating process that two sides undertake that one side at least we’ll always be worried that incremental ism never gets you to the goal you want just lead you around in circles and so Beijing is looking for let me symbolic reassurance that there is a goal at the end of this process not just going around in circles so you say right now they’re working on easy issues how long would you say that they have been working on the easy issues such as economic development it’s really since 2008 when president mine Joe was elected as the president of the ROC and he took some immediate steps to create a platform for these negotiations on economic issues there was an understanding with Beijing that it would be easy issues it wasn’t just economic issues there are certain issues having to do with law enforcement and judicial cooperation that were agreed to as well and part of the process was removing obstacles to normal in economic intercourse and then the big step was liberalizing the economic relationship to further expand areas of cooperation

and the landmark here was the Economic Cooperation framework agreement exa that was signed in late june two thousand ten and under that framework there were several other agreements that were to be negotiated and we’re in the middle of the process of negotiating those and getting them approved and so on and the more of these easy issues they do the harder it gets because the more it touches on domestic issues in interest in each place but the progress may have slowed down but it’s continuing so for President Xi and the rest of the Chinese leadership do you think for them the cross-strait relate issue will only reach a final resolution with reunification are there really any other alternatives in their minds well rhetorically and I think in their hearts for them the ultimate goal is unification and the formula that they consider the only formula they consider is one country two systems I think they have learned that moving too quickly towards that goal trying to push Taiwan towards that goal before tall ones ready to go is counterproductive and so they have been willing by and large since 2008 to let things move at Tywin’s pace they have a certain confidence that time is on their side as Marxist they have a confidence that economic interaction will lead to political results as Leninist they understand that they have allies if you will within the Taiwan political system so and and they have other issues in the region and domestically that that worried the more so as long as this is going okay that satisfactory but the goal is clear how much do you think the formula would look like the situation they have with Hong Kong well the formula that will is laid out there for Taiwan and was originally devised for Taiwan actually ended up being the basis for Hong Kong’s reversion to chinese sovereignty and Macau’s reversion to chinese sovereignty taiwan takes the position that we’re not the same as Hong Kong and Macau the Republic of China was established in 1912 it has existed ever since and any discussion of a final resolution of the dispute between us has to be on that basis and one country two systems is not an acceptable formula for that I think people in Taiwan would look at the situation in in Hong Kong and say that some things under one country two systems haven’t been too bad but others particularly in the political field have have not created the sort of situation that Taiwan would like to see so moving from easier issues such as economics on to the harder issues like the political aspect of februari of this year Thailand’s mainland affairs council Minister met with his counterpart in China’s Taiwan Affairs Office in the chinese city of nan jing now this meeting marked the first official government to government meeting since the chinese civil war ended in 1949 did this meeting come as a surprise to you and would you say that there was really any prior indication on either side that they were ready to start making that transition from the easier economic issues to the harder maybe more political issues well a couple of points first of all it may have been the first public formal meeting between officials to side of the two sides in a long long time but there have been previous public meetings where representatives of the two sides acting on behalf of their governments have met and in fact the working-level officials in the two governments interact all the time in order to implement the agreements that have already been reached and deal with

problems I think that this meeting had a value first of all in that it took place and it was a way for Taiwan to reassure people on the mainland that there’s an understanding that this is part of a long-term process and this is not just about economic benefits I think that this this meeting was pre saged by a meet an encounter that Minister Wang and director Jang had in a pack last year the encounter was arranged it didn’t just happen it wasn’t a substantive meeting but this suggested a direction that things were going to go I know a lot of our Western media has really kind of lauded these meetings as being purely symbolic and to not really expect anything substantive to result out of these meetings do you agree do you think they are simply symbolic or do you think they actually have a tangible impact well first of all as any Chinese would look at this symbols are substance and they have a substantive port of substantive importance beyond any practical things that get done now in this particular case there was an effort to address some substance one thing that was agreed to was that there would be the establishment of a communications mechanism between the mac and the TA oh it’s more process item than a sort of policy substance item but it’s not insignificant there was an effort also to resolve a continuing dispute over president Maz idea that taiwan’s semi-official cross-strait organization the straits exchange foundation have an office in beijing and the mainland’s association for relations across the Taiwan Strait have an office in Thai Bay and the main stumbling block on that is Taiwan’s insistence that personnel in its beijing office of SEF have the right to visit Taiwan people who are detained on the mainland for whatever reason and Beijing has resisted this down the line Beijing is worried that this would create the appearance that the SEF office is like an embassy or consulate doing consular work because that’s what some consular officials do Taiwan insists that for practical and political reasons they have to be able to visit their people and that’s where it’s been stuck for some time and it looks like it continues to be stuck so there was a substantive effort but it didn’t really get anywhere what what do you think Taiwan has to gain from these official high-level talks I think it helps to reassure people on the mainland that this is not a stalled process even if in some ways it is there is a danger however that by doing too much of this that it will create suspicions with in Taiwan that the current leadership is in some way selling out Taiwan so the results of these meetings are looked at very carefully to see things have happened that shouldn’t and there were already some constraints put on Minister Wang before he even went to Nnanji I know many in Beijing see these political talks as the next step towards the reunification process like we identified earlier are there other motives that play or is that really the primary motivator behind these talks there are some issues of importance to Taiwan that may only happen because of political talks that don’t really have much to do with unification but but still might take place the one that comes to mind is Taiwan’s International Space Taiwan wants a much greater role in the international system both economic and political and China has taken the

position ah this is a political issue we need to have a much better understanding of what one China means and we can only get that through political talk so if you’re interested in a lot more international space you have to have political talks you know this is a form of leverage that Beijing has over timing but it’s if the political talks could be conducted successfully to both sides satisfaction it would start to pave the way perhaps to moving towards discussions of resolving the fundamental dispute so for for the Beijing side for shooting pain could we really describe this as a balancing act they’re trying to take steps towards the goal of eventual reunification with the one country two systems formula in mind but they’re having to do it you know what the idea of time is on their side they don’t want to push too much and so but they also have to balance you know Chinese sent popular sentiment the international community so kind of to me seems like it’s just a massive balancing act for President Xi Jinping I think that’s right there are probably other issues on which is balancing act is a lot more difficult i would say that there’s another aspect of the balance and that is conducting cross-strait relations in a way that creates or that avoids forces coming to power in taiwan who beijing would fear would challenge taiwan china is fundamental interest they felt that the Chen shui-bian administration did make such challenges and they would like to avoid that if possible so that’s another reason not to push too hard because it may create vulnerability for the Gorman dog administration so since my young Joe has been present in 2008 we’ve really seen an improvement in relations and it appears that both sides are really maintaining to the idea of maintaining the status quo and that seems to be you know helping the relationship improve and move forward but how sustainable do you really think that system is and how long can both sides really realistically maintain this status quo first I would say that what they’re trying to do is improve the status quo and stabilize the status quo I’m status quo is a very squishy term and can mean just about anything people want but clearly they want to create a more stable situation avoid something worse from Beijing’s point of view and the fact that that mine Joe accepted the idea of moving from easy too hard and that means that he understands that sooner or later you have to go too hard so Taiwan certainly isn’t ruling it out the question is what are the conditions under which it might occur right now taiwan public opinion is really against moving towards political issues and that’s a constraint on the leadership also i think there’s a conceptual gap between Beijing and Taipei on fundamental political matters it has to be addressed and that’s essentially the Republic of China does it exist or doesn’t it and they’re the two views on this are diametrically opposed by once as it exists in China essentially says it doesn’t and so until Beijing is more creative on that issue and perhaps more creative on the one country two systems formula it’s going to be hard I think to move forward move from economic costs to political talks now I think there are a lot of things that can be done in that interim there are still economic agreements to be done and they’re not going to be easy the two sides can do a good job of implementing the agreements that they’ve already reached to create confidence that future agreements are worse negotiating so things have slowed down but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and you know we

have election election coming up in 2016 that will I think test the Taiwan public’s happiness with the current situation so you just said that Taiwanese popular sentiment has been fairly resistant to moving towards these harder issues like the political issues is this ultimately because they don’t like the idea of reunifying with the mainland if you take polls in Taiwan and ask people what’s the ultimate outcome you want the the answer unification usually gets less than ten percent I think that is probably just a function of how respondents are defining the term unification I mean they probably mean it’s think it means one country two systems which has always been unpopular if Beijing were to take a more creative approach and adopt a different formula for unification one that was more accommodating to Taiwan then you might get a different answer to that polling question but right now as the Taiwan public understands the idea of unification they don’t want any part of it so hypothetically speaking if China and Taiwan decided tomorrow that they were going to pursue this peaceful reunification how do you think we as the United States would respond to that and do we have anything to lose or gain from this peaceful reunification the position of the United States has long been that we don’t take a position on how the two sides should resolve this that it’s up to them to decide it what we insist on is that it be resolved peacefully we’ve also said that we believe that this resolution should be acceptable to the people of Taiwan that in a way is a statement of reality because it’s a democratic system I think that you could have a unification that resulted from Beijing’s intimidation I think that would be unacceptable to us but that and there are probably some people in the United States who think it would be a bad thing for Taiwan to unify under any circumstances I think that’s a minority view I think there’s a certain value for the United States in a resolution of this issue that Taiwan people decide is good for them and removes one problem area from the list of problems that the United States has to deal with how do you think other countries in the area such as Japan or South Korea might be affected by this reunification well first of all it depends on what the formula is second of all it probably depends on how they read the consequences of that solution for them and whether those that reading is accurate I think Japan would be very concerned if it felt that the People’s Liberation Army particularly the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force was going to be on Taiwan actually what we know of the current one country two systems offer is that the PLA Navy and Air Force would not be on Taiwan so Japan should be somewhat assured it would depend a lot on the circumstances it would also depend on their reading of how the United States approach this if they felt that we had just washed our hands of Taiwan and allow this to happen even though perhaps the Taiwan people weren’t totally accepting of it they would probably worried about the implications for themselves that we might wash our hands of them to whether that would fear would be justified or not one could understand how they might have it so do you think we talked about Taiwanese popular sentiment do you think it’s safe to assume that most people on the mainland are in favor of a reunification a peaceful reunification well yes that’s that’s been a regime goal for a long long time I think the average PRC citizen doesn’t understand the complexities of the issue doesn’t necessarily understand why taiwan people would be opposed to unification but i

think if whatever the formula is if if the regime said this is a good outcome this achieves a major national objective and promotes the chinese dream in the region region of rejuvenation of the Chinese nation you know people would go along do you think it has the potential to do that to rejuvenate the Chinese nation oh I I think people on the mainland had talked themselves into the idea that a a China that is not unified cannot be a truly powerful China and by implication there has to be unification if the Chinese nation is going to be rejuvenated so just to conclude could you briefly tell us what your outlook or prediction is for how this conflict continues to unfold maybe just over the next couple of years okay well I think we are already in something of a stall because the economic issues are being exhausted and the economic issues that remain are our kind of hard Taiwan public is not ready to do political issues I think they’re the two sides can get through a stall and lay the groundwork for something else the big question mark Oh looking over the next two or three years is which party wins the Taiwan presidential election in January 2016 is it another woman down candidate or is it a candidate of the democratic progressive party if that happens then the stall will be further entrenched big question is what China does in response to a DPP victory does it punish Taiwan severely or not so severely I think ultimately moving forward on this issue beyond where we are today requires some new thinking on the mainland’s part on how it can better win the hearts and minds of the Taiwan people well unfortunately we are out of time today but I just wanted to thank you again dr. Bush for joining us in helping us work through this complicated issue and thank you to all of you who are joining me from home we’ll see you next week on China forum you