When President Obama no-showed at the APEC meeting earlier this month (see Talking Point), he left much of the spotlight at the gathering of Asian leaders to Chinese president Xi Jinping. And with Taiwan’s major backer absent, Xi took the opportunity to talk about cross-straits issues on the summit sidelines.
Xi said Beijing was willing to have “equal consultations” with Taiwan on cross-straits issues, but he insisted he wanted to see more progress in resolving them.
“The political divide that exists between the two sides must reach a final resolution step-by-step and cannot be passed on from generation to generation,” he told Taiwanese representatives at the summit.
The remark triggered another round of diplomatic activity. Last Friday representatives from both sides met in Shanghai to seek consensus on the possibility of future dialogue. At the first Cross-Strait Peace Forum, some 120 experts discussed political relations, external affairs and security, as well as developing a new framework for peace, reports the South China Morning Post.
The meeting came at a time when connections between China and Taiwan are growing. Indeed, there was another milestone last week when the high-speed passenger ship Haixia made its first voyage between Pingtan Island in Fujian province (the closest point on the Chinese mainland to Taiwan) and Taiwan’s capital Taipei, says CCTV.
For nearly three years the Haixia has been making regular crossings between Fujian and Taichung, a city in western Taiwan, carrying more than 90,000 people in the first seven months of last year, according to statistics from the Fujian transportation bureau. But last week’s arrival – after a 92-nautical mile journey from Pingtan – was the first passenger ship from mainland China to travel direct to Taipei since the island’s ruling party, the KMT decamped there in 1949.
Despite the steady growth in transport links, both sides remain wary of the other’s intentions. A case in point: ahead of the Peace Forum held in Shanghai this month, Taiwan’s defence ministry released a report suggesting that China will soon have the military capability to fend off foreign efforts that might stop it from invading the island.
The report says that China is continuing to enhance its strike capability against the Taiwanese, which includes beefing up its potential for an amphibious landing, as well as deploying more missiles across the Taiwan Strait (1,400 at the last count).
With the rapid modernisation of China’s naval and armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army will possess the “comprehensive military capability to successfully deter any foreign aid that comes to Taiwan’s defence by 2020,” the report’s authors warned.
Political analysts say that the Taiwanese purposely released the findings to pressure the Americans to lend more support (the United States is Taiwan’s leading provider of military hardware), according to the Shenzhen Satellite Station, a cable TV network.
In 2011, the Obama administration agreed to upgrade the island’s existing fleet of F-16 jets rather than sell new fighters to Taipei. This still prompted strong protests from Beijing.
“Taiwan has hyped up China’s military threat in what is clearly an effort to seek external support,” Lai Yueqian, an outspoken commentator on cross-straits relations, told Phoenix TV.
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