A decade and a half ago the Taiwan Strait was regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous potential flashpoints.
Today, it looks like a calmer spot, albeit in a region seething with diplomatic tension.
The latest evidence was two meetings between Taiwanese and mainland Chinese delegations which took place this week and last.
The first was deemed the more diplomatically significant – the highest-level encounter between cross straits officials in 65 years. The second followed in a matter of days, with an unofficial visit by Lien Chan, the honorary chairman of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party.
“From low frequency to high frequency, from interparty exchanges to official meetings, these developments show the continual improvement of deep and peaceful cross straits relations,” the Global Times wrote in an editorial this week.
The People’s Daily said that dialogue between the mainland and Taiwan – which Beijing regards as a renegade province – had “got off to an inspiring start in the Year of the Horse”.
So what actually happened at these meetings to warrant such exuberance? In reality, very little.
The first confab was in Nanjing and was attended by Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, and Zhang Zhujun, the head of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office. The three-day meeting was largely about building confidence between the two sides and talking up their shared cultural and historic ties. It ended with an agreement to open representative offices on each other’s soil. Doubtless that is why Nanjing, the burial place of Sun Yat-Sen and once the Chinese capital under the KMT, was chosen as the location for the rendezvous.
One of the more symbolic parts of the meeting saw China’s Zhang refer to Wang using his title of “minister” – something that wouldn’t have happened in the past because of the sovereignty implications. The media in China said Zhang was reflecting the respect between the two sides but was quick to point out that “content not titles are what really matters in a conversation”.
That position was reinforced by the fact that no official titles or flags were placed on tables when the two sides sat down together.
This week’s meeting between Xi Jinping and Lien – they met as party heads not as state representatives – also lacked tangible results. But again it offered the opportunity to make conciliatory noises and hint at future progress (including a possible ‘official’ meeting between Xi and Taiwan’s current president and KMT chairman, Ma Ying-jeou).
Xi, who alarmed many Taiwanese last year by saying that “a political solution could not be put off indefinitely”, this time praised the island’s “lifestyle”.
Was this a pledge to safeguard its political structure, some wondered, or more a complimentary referenece to its social security system?
All of which is in marked contrast to worsening relations between China and some of its other neighbours in recent months.
As WiC last remarked in issue 221, Beijing and Tokyo have descended to shrill denunciations of one another as Lord Voldemort – the evil wizard in the Harry Potter stories. Earlier this month Xinhua branded Philippine President Benigno Aquino a “disgrace” for comparing China to Nazi Germany.
Compared to that, cross straits relations look positively fraternal.
In his latest visit, Lien and his wife were presented two Xiaomi smartphones by Beijing’s Party chief Guo Jinlong. Manufactured on the mainland with technologies brought in from Taiwan, Xiaomi is viewed as a successful case of cross straits cooperation.
Inscribed on the back of the special gifts, there are nine Chinese characters that read: “The mainland and Taiwan join hands to earn the world’s money.”
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