Chen Deming bids farewell to Taiwan at Taoyuan International Airport, Dec. 3. (Photo/Kao Hsin-yu)
A recent visit by China's top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen Deming, was fruitful and demonstrated significant progress in Taiwan-China ties in terms of trade and mutual understanding across the strait, yet it also shed light on areas for improvement.
During the visit, which concluded on Dec. 3 and marked Chen's first trip to Taiwan since he took over as president of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) in April, Chen visited some leading Taiwanese enterprises, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world's largest contract chip maker.
Chen urged Taiwan and China to team up to seek greater dominance and higher profits in the global market, while touring the factory of Hon Hai Precision, the world's largest contract electronics maker, which assembles iPhones and iPads under the name Foxconn in China.
During the eight-day visit, Chen also elaborated on the economic reforms taking place in China, prospects for bilateral economic and trade cooperation, and above all, the idea of Taiwanese and Chinese industries working symbiotically.
Chen, who defined the trip as one intended to boost economic ties, also met with former vice president and economic expert Vincent Siew and shared his ideas on how to implement the consensus reached at a summit for businessmen and entrepreneurs held in Nanjing on Nov. 4-5.
Chen's efforts to encourage further progress on Beijing's behalf comes at a time when the two sides are running into several bottlenecks in their collaboration efforts, including an imbalance in the flow of capital, talent, and technology amid a widening imbalance in economic power between Taiwan and China.
Another issue is the lack of coordination between industries on both sides of the strait, which has resulted in intensifying competition that has fueled anxiety amongst Taiwanese businesspeople, who fear they are being marginalized as they lose their competitive edge. This anxiety most recently took shape in the opposition from some quarters of Taiwanese society to a trade-in-services pact between Taiwan and China, which was signed in June but has yet to clear Taiwan's Legislature before it can take effect.
While Chen encountered Taiwan's pro-independence activists and opponents of the service trade pact throughout his trip, there were no scenes of the more aggressive protests encountered by his predecessor Chen Yunlin in 2008.
However, Taiwan and China did not make use of the opportunity of Chen's visit to Taiwan to pursue a face-to-face conversation on the disputed services trade pact due to protests against the agreement from some members of Taiwan's major opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, and activists.
The fact that no dialogue could take place at all throws up questions as to how mature Taiwan really is as a democracy.
Commenting on protesters gathering in the southern city of Kaohsiung, a DPP stronghold, Chen remarked that he was not sure how "representative they were of Taiwan's public opinion," drawing ire and sparking debates in the country's media. Taiwan and China need to work toward improving communication and understanding to take their ties to the next level.
James Soong, chairman of the People First Party, which is aligned with the ruling Kuomintang, suggested during a meeting with Chen that ARATS should also pay heed to the voices of Taiwan's small and medium enterprises as well as its leading enterprises as a way to minimize misunderstandings, pointing out the current blind spots in exchanges between Taiwan and China.
Another area for improvement was that Chen's visit was largely limited to meetings with members of the Kuomintang and local government leaders from the party, which has been more open to engagement with China under President Ma Ying-jeou, who is also the KMT chairman.
We believe a visit that shuts out the DPP will only widen the divide in Taiwan and hamper the normalization of Taiwan-China ties. We urge ARATS to make the leap to arrange meetings with members of the DPP during future trips to ensure a breakthrough in Taiwan-China relations and garner more recognition and support from the Taiwanese people.
We also call on members of the DPP to quickly establish mutual trust with the Communist Party of China to facilitate normal exchange for the welfare of the people of Taiwan.
Chen Deming 陳德銘
James Soong 宋楚瑜
Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九