Call for breakthrough in cross-strait relations

TAIWAN President Tsai Ing-wen last month reiterated the Taiwan government's long-term position that "our goodwill will not change, our commitments will not change, we will not revert to the old path of confrontation, and we will not bow to pressure."

Speaking at the opening ceremony of a symposium titled Cross-Strait Exchanges: A 30-Year Retrospective and Prospects for the Future on Oct 26, the president appealed once again to leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to embrace the harmony and moderation of traditional political wisdom, and seek a breakthrough in cross-strait relations to create long-term well-being for people on both sides, and eliminate hostility and the fear of war.

In July 1987, Taiwan lifted martial law. In November of that year, its government decided to permit the hundreds of thousands of ageing soldiers who came to Taiwan with the Kuomintang government to return to their hometowns to visit relatives. That formally ended the tragic separation of families due to cross-strait hostilities.

Tsai said before martial law was lifted the Taiwan government had a "three no's" cross-strait policy of "no contact, no negotiation, and no compromise". All cross-strait interaction was a violation of political taboo, and illegal. But in 1987 a group of those aging soldiers took to the streets of Taipei to challenge that policy, wearing white shirts with the word "homesick" written on the front.

The Democratic Progressive Party's support of the call to lift the restrictions was its first contribution to the normalisation of cross-strait relations and a manifestation of its "people-centred" core value on cross-strait policy, the part of history that is often overlooked.

Following the government's decision to lift the ban on Taiwan nationals visiting mainland China in 1987, the wounds suffered by cross-strait families began to heal, and cross-strait contacts were no longer taboo, spurring increased interaction, familiarity, and understanding for people on both sides. People-to-people exchanges created opportunities for facilitating mutual understanding in such areas as academia, culture and economy.

Since 1987, the people of Taiwan have made nearly 100 million trips to mainland China, and more than 24 million mainland nationals have travelled to Taiwan. Indirect transport across the strait became direct transport. Currently, private airlines operate nearly 900 cross-strait flights per week, and more than 17 million indirect cross-strait trips have been made via Kinmen and Matsu over the years.

Cross-strait exchanges, which are basically people-to-people exchanges, clearly show how cross-strait relations have moved from hostility towards peace over the past 30 years.

Since our government established the Mainland Affairs Council and Straits Exchange Foundation in 1991, and passed the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area in 1992, cross-strait exchanges gradually gained semi-official, and then official status.

After the DPP became the ruling party for the first time in 2000, there were some unexpected setbacks in cross-strait ties. But during our eight years in power, we still made promoting cross-strait exchanges and people's well-being our policy goals by pragmatically promoting the development of cross-strait relations.

Over the past 30 years, development on both sides of the strait and mutual cooperation have allowed Taiwan to become a model for newly industrialised countries and a core global supplier of information and communications products. Those factors have also facilitated mainland China's rapid rise. These changes have given both sides of the strait more important roles and greater influence in the international community.

Since taking office in May last year, Tsai added, she has ensured the government extended maximum goodwill and safeguarded the stable development of cross-strait ties. This commitment will not change, nor will there be a return to the old path of confrontation or a yielding to pressure.

Tsai said, "the ruling party in mainland China recently concluded its National Congress, and its governance has entered a new stage. On May 20 last year, I appealed to the governing parties on both sides of the strait to set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue for the benefit of the people on both sides."

Tsai said: "The present presents an opportunity for change. So once again, I am appealing to the leaders on both sides of the strait to embrace the harmony and moderation of traditional political wisdom, and seek a breakthrough in cross-strait relations to create long-term well-being for people on both sides, and eliminate hostility and the fear of war."

In building on this foundation, the president said the ruling parties of Taiwan and mainland China should drop historical baggage and expand dialogue. This would lead to enhanced mutual understanding, trust and the better management of various challenges and issues in cross-strait ties, she said.

The president said this approach also benefits the international community as regional peace and security are key factors impacting the development of countries and territories and the well-being of their peoples. Taiwan and mainland China have an obligation to adopt new modes of thinking and cross-strait interaction for the benefit of all.

Liu Bang-Chuan is senior adviser at Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia. Comments: