Taiwan rebuffs Jiang's overture
By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Taipei has given a lukewarm response to Chinese President Jiang Zemin's offer that "all issues" relating to Taiwan can be discussed under the premise of the one-China principle.
In his opening address to the 16th Chinese Communist Party Congress on Friday, Jiang said: "On the basis of the one-China principle, let us shelve for now certain political disputes and resume the cross-Straits dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible."
Issues that the out-going Chinese leader said Beijing could discuss with Taipei included a formal cessation of cross-Straits hostility, Taiwan's "international" or diplomatic space, and "the political status of the Taiwan authorities."
The call for a renewed dialogue with Taiwan however was accompanied by a warning that force could be used against "attempts to interfere in China's reunification."
Taiwan leaders have responded by reiterating that cross-Taiwan Strait talks could only commence without preconditions such as Beijing's one-China precept.
"Talks between both sides can start any time if there are no preconditions," Taipei papers on Saturday quoted Premier Yu Shyi-kun as saying.
Yu added the "one China principle" could only be one item on the agenda, not a "pre-set premise" for talks.
And President Chen Shui-bian warned Taiwan residents that if Taipei were to accept the "one China principle" or the "one country, two systems" model, Taiwan could degenerate into a "special administrative region" such as Hong Kong or Macau.
Referring to Jiang's Friday statement that after reunification with the mainland, Taiwan could preserve its socio-economic structure and way of life, Chen said: "Jiang Zemin has no idea what is in the minds [of Taiwanese]."
Chen, who also heads the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, repeated his controversial remark that the mainland and Taiwan are separate countries on each side of the Taiwan Strait.
"We must be clear that each side [of the Strait] is a [separate] country," Chen said. "Taiwan must go down its own road."
Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said Jiang had added new material on Taiwan to the final draft of his 90-minute speech to the Congress.
They said it was the first time that Beijing had cited the possibility of talks on a cessation of cross-Straits hostility -- as well as giving Taiwan some form of diplomatic wriggle room.
However, the analysts said Jiang also reiterated Beijing would never give up the threat of use of force -- and that the question of reunification "could not be dragged on forever."
The 16th Congress is being billed as a political watershed for China, ushering the biggest leadership changes the country has seen in a decade and setting the direction for its economic and political future. (Congress agenda)
Held once every five years, the Congress is set to approve a major reshuffle of China's leadership, with Jiang, 76, set to step aside as president and party chief along with other party veterans including Premier Zhu Rongji and National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng.
Power behind throne
In his opening address, Jiang said it was time for the party to modernize its thinking, open its doors to new economic opportunities and expand its base by taking in members of the new capitalist rich.
However, during the speech which was televised live across the country, Jiang also stressed that China would not follow Western style multi-party democracy.
"We should never copy any models of the political system of the West," he said.
Most expect Jiang will be succeeded as Communist Party chief by Vice-President Hu Jintao, 59, who is also widely expected to replace Jiang as president next year. (Profile: Hu Jintao)
However, like his predecessor Deng Xiaoping, analysts say Jiang expected to remain the unofficial power behind the throne for some time to come -- a factor that could cause complications for the new generation of leaders.
They will be faced with some of the greatest challenges modern China and its communist leaders have yet had to meet.