Asia Program

Events

Breaking the Ice, or Muddying the Waters? New Dialogue across the Taiwan Strait

May 18, 2005 // 3:30pm5:30pm

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Robert S. Ross, Professor of Political Science, Boston College
Thomas J. Bellows, Professor of Political Science, University of Texas, San Antonio

Unprecedented meetings between leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan's opposition parties-—the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) and the People First Party-—have reduced cross–Taiwan Strait tensions in the wake of China's adoption of the "anti-secession law." Will these Taiwanese parties' contact with Beijing facilitate dialogue between the two governments, or will it preempt such a process due to Taiwan's domestic politics? To what degree should the United States encourage dialogue across the Taiwan Strait?

Four experienced experts discussed the meetings and related issues in a May 18 seminar hosted by the Wilson Center's Asia Program. Two of the speakers, Liu and Zhang, spoke on the same subject at a Capitol Hill breakfast meeting for congressional staff the following morning.

Bellows argued that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait need more interaction and closer ties. The United States should strongly encourage cross–Taiwan Strait dialogue. He did not perceive such dialogue would lead to Taiwan's annexation by China. "One China" has yet to be defined, and an evolving formulation might take 50 years.

Ross maintained that the ruling Democratic Program Party (DPP) and its ally, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, have never won the majority of votes during Taiwan's regular elections. Although most people on Taiwan consider themselves as "Taiwanese," they do not necessarily support Taiwan's independence. While government-to-government dialogue is unlikely in the future, the general trend is toward stability across the Taiwan Strait, Ross concluded.

Liu discussed Beijing's strategy in reducing U.S. influence in East Asia, isolating Taiwan from the Asia-Pacific economic community, and inducing Taiwan's opposition parties to visit China to calm down international skepticism of Beijing's anti-secession law. However, the mainland fever generated in Taiwan by the China trips of Lien Chan and James Soong has been dampened by Beijing's insistence on the one-China principle.

Zhang observed a dichotomous political development in Taiwan regarding cross-Strait relations. Although the anti-secession law has stimulated different degrees of reactions from Taiwan's pan-green and pan-blue camps, pan-blue's ice-breaking visits to the mainland have contributed to short-term progress in cross-Strait relations.

Drafted by Gang Lin, Asia Program Associate
Robert M. Hathaway, Director, Asia Program
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