Taipei not concerned about independence
By Philip Iglauer
Two months after Taiwan’s presidential election in January, the East Asian island’s chief diplomatic representative in Korea said the No. 1 task in cross-strait relations with mainland China is “to build up trust and mutual confidence.”
“We like to put economic matters ahead of political ones. We would like to put economics first, and put politics second. We would like to handle urgent matters first,” said Taiwan’s chief representative in Korea Liang Ying-ping.
“Independence and unification are, at the moment, not really an issue,” he said.
Taiwan went to the polls Jan. 14 to vote in its fifth direct presidential election, re-electing Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT).
The next day, policy makers in Beijing and Washington, it may be said without much exaggeration, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Ma defeated opposition candidate Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Taiwan’s first female presidential candidate by promising to press ahead with talks on improving cross-strait ties.
The election became in some ways a referendum on the 1992 consensus that refers to a verbal cross-strait agreement on the meaning of the “One China” policy. It has allowed Taipei and Beijing to engage in dialogue and negotiations without touching on the very sensitive issue of sovereignty.
“At this moment our policy is no independence, no unification with China and no use of force,” Liang said in an interview with The Korea Times on Feb. 9 at his office in downtown Seoul.
Taiwan and China agreed on the One China policy in the 1992 consensus, but also agreed to disagree on interpretations of what this entails. The acceptance of different interpretations has opened the door for Taiwan to engage in negotiations. That is because the existence of Taiwan as a separate sovereign entity ― the Republic of China ― is not explicitly denied under this arrangement.
It is this agree-to-disagree approach that has somehow shelved the sensitive issue of sovereignty in China-Taiwan relations.
“We would like to continue to institutionalize consultations between Taiwan and mainland China, because there are so many issues to handle _ economics as well as politics,” Liang said.
Under this verbally agreed consensus, the Ma government resumed talks with mainland China when the KMT returned to power in 2008.
The Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits reached 16 agreements that helped to institutionalize this channel of communication.
The Ma government also signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), deepening economic integration, which has helped Taiwan to weather the financial storm of the past three years
“The status quo is dynamic. We cannot predict the future, particularly 20 years from now,” Liang said.
Now more than ever, Taiwan’s future vis-à-vis China, does not depend on hardball politics, but on what political scientists call “soft power.”
Coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye, soft power is the ability of nations to get what they want through the attractiveness of their society, culture and businesses, persuading other nations to want what they want.
“The most important aspect of Taiwan’s soft power is its democracy, its human rights record, and its entrepreneurship,” Liang said.
“The future of Taiwan lies in the hands of the people of Taiwan,” he said. “No particular person, no political party, can dictate the future of Taiwan.”
Taiwan’s relations with Korea have been robust. Bilateral trade is about $30 billion annually and people-to-people exchanges have topped 600,000.
Commercial and tourist links look to increase still further.
Direct flights between Taipei's Songshan Airport and Seoul’s Gimpo Airport started in March, cutting two hours off Taiwan-Korea commute times.
It is all part of Taiwan’s "Golden Aviation Circle in Northeast Asia" campaign to connect Taipei with major cities throughout East Asia. “People to people exchanges will become easier because those two airports are located in the central cities,” Liang said. “Now you can have your breakfast in Seoul, your lunch in Taipei and your dinner in Shanghai.”