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Taiwan 'flexible' on mainland issues

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has made a strong appeal to Chinese leaders to open meetings on healing the split between the two sides
Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has made a strong appeal to Chinese leaders to open meetings on healing the split between the two sides  

Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

(CNN) -- Taipei has said it is willing to talk with the mainland on "whatever issue" but it hopes Beijing will try to understand the Taiwan system better.

The Chairwoman of Taiwan's cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council, Tsai Ing-wen, said Taipei was "prepared to be flexible" on issues including the three direct links on mail, transport and business.

"We are prepared to sit down with them [Chinese officials] to jointly explore possibilities," Tsai told CNN in an interview. "The ball is in their court."

However, Tsai said there must be no precondition to the talks and that Chinese officials should get to know Taiwan better.

"They [Chinese] have to make an effort to understand the system here -- and how a modern government operates," she added.

In the past couple of months, Chinese cadres such as Vice-Premier Qian Qichen and Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Chen Yunlin have made various proposals on how to kick-start talks on the three links.

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Qian pointed out earlier this month that the question of one China could be set aside provided that Taipei would regard the three links as "an internal matter."

Until then, Beijing had insisted that Taipei make a public declaration of the one China principle before the negotiations could commence.

However, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and other senior officials rejected Qian's offer, saying there was nothing substantially new in the proposal.

Tsai, a key adviser to President Chen, said while Taipei appreciated Beijing's willingness to make such overtures, there was still a distance to go.

"We can at least sense that there is an effort to express their willingness to exercise flexibility," Tsai said.

"Yet to what extent they will [actually] exercise flexibility is still a question."

Government involvement

The MAC chair hinted that some suggestions made by Beijing reflected a basic lack of understanding of the Taiwan system.

A case in point was TAO Director Chen's idea that Taipei send businessmen such as well-known industrialists Wang Yung-ching and Kao Ching-yuan to Beijing to discuss the links.

Tsai indicated since government regulations as well as the law and public interest were at stake, the Taiwan government, not just businessmen, must necessarily be involved in the talks.

She stressed that there was no way that Beijing could make the decision on who should be doing the negotiations for Taiwan.

Tsai added Chen's naming of possible businessman-negotiators had caused the individuals "major embarrassment."

Referring to Vice-Premier Qian's statement early this year that certain categories of members of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could visit the mainland, the MAC chief said the Chinese authorities did not seem to have made up its mind as to whether to accept visits by groups of DPP members.

However, she pointed out the DPP had just named Chen Chung-hsin, a moderate politician and frequent traveler to China, as head of its China Affairs Department.

Tsai said she hoped "the Chinese authorities would not create difficulties so as to prevent him from going [to the mainland] in the future."


Ms Tsai said she was aware that Chinese authorities had, through a pro-Beijing Hong Kong paper, indicated that she could visit the mainland in a "proper capacity."

She said, however, that it was not up to Beijing to decide what that capacity should be.

"As a government official, I have the government's integrity and dignity to protect," she said.

Referring to the current state of business links with China, Tsai said the MAC and other departments were trying to simplify the procedure for Taiwan businessmen investing in China.

Studies are also being done on allowing mainland investment in Taiwan in areas including real estate -- as well as allowing mainland tourists to visit the island.

Nauru cuts ties

However, the MAC chief emphasized that cross-straits issues such as direct links were not simply a commercial consideration because the island's security as well as "stability and peace in the Taiwan Strait" were concerned.

Tsai said in the final analysis, it was up to the people of Taiwan to make the final decision on future relationship with the mainland.

"The decision is to be made by the people here and the people here have the right to decide on their own future," she said.

"The government's mission is to ensure that we do have a democratic system for our people to make that decision."

The tiny Pacific island state of Nauru cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan on Sunday to establish ties with China, reducing the number of countries which recognise Taiwan to 27.




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