Foxconn boss Terry Gou meets Chen Deming in New Taipei, Dec. 3. (Photo/CNS)
The year 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the Koo-Wang talks and also the first time two top officials in charge of cross-strait affairs have met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. 2014 is set to see a continuation of cross-strait developments with Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) chairman Wu Yu-chi and the head of Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Zhang Zhijun set to meet in Nanjing this February.
The Koo-Wang talks refers to the meeting in Hong Kong 20 years ago between Koo Chen-fu from Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and Wang Daohan from China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), a landmark meeting that pried open the door for formal cross-strait discussions that eventually bore fruit in 2008.
In April last year, Chen Deming was appointed as president of ARATS and later visited Taiwan at the end of November. Although Chen did not speak much during the Taiwan trip or after he returned to China, he indicated that cross-strait ties were poised at a critical juncture.
Many now claim that relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are heading in a new direction. Chen's visit meanwhile sparked discussion about the state of cross-strait relations, with many wondering how the two sides should seize opportunities to handle critical sensitive issues to build a firm base for future ties.
These sensitive issues include the positioning of a communication mechanism between ARATS and Taiwan's SEF, the establishment of bottom lines and systematic relations between the two a semi-official organization, as well as between MAC and TAO, the follow-up of Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and competitive and cooperative ties between the Shanghai free trade zone and Taiwan's free economic pilot zone.
These issues have become more complicated than ever and they also reflect the fact that cross-strait ties are at a new historical stage as two sides are exploring new opportunities and possibilities. The new possibilities and trends are highly connected with the ties and negotiations taking place between ARATS and SEF. As China's top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen can only live up to his duties when he adopts a more proactive stance than his predecessor, Chen Yunlin, to familiarize himself with Taiwan.
In addition, the 20th anniversary of the Koo-Wang talks has pushed ARATS and SEF to deliberate on the relations existing among China, Taiwan and globalization. If we divide the development of cross-strait economic ties into three stages — the last decade of the 20th century, the first decade of the 21st century and after the ECFA — we can find that developments correspond with the trend of further liberalization in the global economy, which was also evident in Chen's visit to the Port of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, free economic zone and electronic enterprises last year.
From the ARATS standpoint, the visit showed Taiwan's public and entrepreneurs in particular that globalization will provide support for political and economic interaction between the two sides.
Meanwhile, in order to settle the relationship between cross-strait ties and globalization, political dialogue cannot be avoided, and the two sides should immediately engage in talks regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and service trade pact.
Since 1978, particularly after the Chinese economic reforms in 1992, China has insisted on a "one-China" policy and opposed Taiwan's independence in the economic and trade development, which have also been reflected in China's incentive policies for Taiwan.
As head of ARATS, Chen's tough mission during his term will most certainly include how Taiwan and China can work together in the global economic system and how they can continue to facilitate peaceful unity between the two sides following on from the Koo-Wang meeting.
Learning about Taiwan and bringing the two sides together is a mission belonging to current and future generations of Chinese leaders, including Chen. Cross-strait ties have entered a stage of action and the task will only get more difficult.
(Zhou Zhongfei is a researcher at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. Translated by WCT)