CBM Obstacles for China and Taiwan
By Wendell Minnick
Taipei - Taiwan conducted a one-day seminar on the complexities of cross-Strait relations between Beijing and Taipei on Oct. 12 that highlighted the importance and challenges of confidence-building measures.
The seminar, "Cross-Strait Relations: Current Status and Directions of Effort," was sponsored by the Taipei-based Foundation on International and Cross Strait Studies (FICS) and the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Speakers and panelists included Lai Shin-yuan, minister, Mainland Affairs Council; Bonnie Glaser, associate, CSIS; Alexander Huang, professor, Tamkang University; and Arthur Ding, professor, National Chengchi University.
During his opening remarks, Lai repeated a call made by Taiwan's new president, Ma Ying-jeou, for both China and Taiwan to "face reality, pioneer a new future, shelve controversies and pursue a win-win solution."
When Ma took office in May, his administration moved quickly with successful negotiations for direct cross-strait flights.
There are now discussions on opening Taiwan's stock market to investment from China, developing a mechanism for cross-Strait banking, a potential memorandum on cross-Strait securities, and a mechanism for mediation of cross-Strait economic and trade disputes, he said.
There have been complaints that the new administration is moving too quickly on cross-Strait deals, with allegations Ma is surrendering to China without safeguarding Taiwan's security. Others accuse the administration of undertaking the Finlandization of Taiwan.
Lai revealed the planned visit by Chen Yun-lin, chairman of the Chinese Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, for a "groundbreaking visit to Taiwan" in late October or November. The visit is expected to include further discussions on expanding direct cross-Strait flights, launching cross-Strait cargo flights, establishing new flight paths and direct cross-Strait shipping.
Complaints that Taiwan is moving too quickly to improve relations with China have to face the fact that in 2007 two-way trade volume across the strait was $102 billion, and "there are about 5 million trips across the Taiwan Strait each year," he said. Direct flights and other initiatives "reduce the present inconvenience," he said. Efforts by the Ma administration to push forward on confidence-building measures (CBM) and a peace accord will no doubt face hurdles in the next four years.
Huang said both China and Taiwan have stated similar goals about a "peace accord" that "contain many common ideas and languages." He recommends a set of guidelines for Taiwan for the successful pursuit of CBMs and a peace accord.
A "new wave of reconciliation is within reach as [Chinese President] Hu Jintao" begins his second five-year term, and Taiwan should "seize the initiative of agenda-setting in military CBMs, strategize approaches, action items, priorities and the bottom lines," he said. However, Taiwan must also face its split personality.
"Being a small island state, the Republic of China [Taiwan] had long been in a perturbed position between the two 'Bs': the blood and the brain," Huang said. Taiwanese are by blood Chinese, but unlike their mainland cousins are heavily influenced by Western ideas such as democracy and human rights.
"Security of Taiwan rests in the similar fashion, depending on the statecraft, diplomacy and strategy in dealing with two nuclear powers: the People's Republic of China and the United States," he said. Among the items Huang recommends are exchanges of military officers, a military hotline, an exchange of military officers to observe exercises, a mechanism for civil-military sea rescue missions, early warning measures, transparency of military activities, the withdrawal of missiles, and the signing of codes of conduct for air fighter and fleet sea activities.
Glaser warns that while there is hope for CBMs and a peace accord, there are also obstacles.
"From Beijing's perspective, the abandonment of Taiwan independence is a prerequisite to initiating a process of confidence-building across the Strait," she said. "Ma Ying-jeou's pledge that Taiwan will not pursue independence is therefore critical and must be adhered to both in rhetoric and action."
Beijing's final objective is to achieve unification. If CBMs and a peace accord help to achieve that goal, then China will express interest. However, Taipei will no doubt demand China withdraw or reduce the 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) aimed at Taiwan.
"Some in the PLA [People's Liberation Army] are willing to consider pulling back a small number of SRBMs deployed against Taiwan as a goodwill gesture. Others are opposed," she said. "However, there is no urgency to deal with this issue and [Chinese] officials say that progress is not likely soon."
The most likely scenario is an agreement by the PLA to freeze current levels of SRBMs as an "interim step before the reduction of missiles." Another sticking point is Taiwan's insistence that China renounce the use of force.
"Mainland experts say that prior to reaching an agreement on ending hostility through cross-strait negotiations, the mainland cannot undertake to renounce the use of force," Glaser said. "However, once a peace accord is signed, the mainland will agree to revise its long-standing policy of never abandoning its right to use force."
At that time, CBMs would be replaced by binding agreements. Not everyone sees much of a future for CBMs.
"The future for CBMs is not rosy," Ding said. He said there was little time to get CBMs launched before the 2012 elections in Taiwan, which could see a return to the presidency of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, and a scheduled political succession in China in 2011, which will see an agenda shift as Hu leaves office.