Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung’s six-day visit to China is being seen a groundbreaking step towards the thawing of relations between China and its island neighbour. His televised arrival ceremony in Nanjing, the capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province, on Monday, marked a rare break in China’s coverage of the Sichuan earthquake on May 12, which killed over 65,000 people.
Wu is scheduled to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao barely a week after new Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s call for a resumption of dialogue with China aimed at bolstering ties between the two countries and ensuring regional peace. “Seeking cross-strait peace and maintaining regional stability is our goal and Taiwan still strives to become a peacemaker in the world,” Ma said in his May 20 inaugural address.
Ma, whose presidency returns the KMT to power after eight years, reiterated his stance of “no reunification, no independence and no use of force”. “Taiwan and China in 1992 reached a guideline for bilateral talks that each side can interpret the term ‘One China’ in its own way. I hope we can resume dialogue as soon as possible on the 1992 consensus,” he said. The Taiwan government has offered among the biggest earthquake relief packages to China, having pledged $26 million.
Wu’s visit assumes significance because China 150km away across the Taiwan Strait regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to invade if the island, which split from the mainland in 1949, declares independence. The KMT led a protracted civil war against Mao Tse-tung’s Communist guerrillas before fleeing to Taiwan in 1949. KMT now favours close ties with the mainland as opposed to the pro-independence stance of the Democratic Progressive Party, which lost the March elections.
KMT had a decisive win as voters rejected the ideological policies of former President Chen Shui-bian in favour of Ma’s pragmatic, economics-favouring manifesto. President Ma has pledged to relax limits on trade and investment in China and expand direct charter flights to the mainland currently limited to major holidays to weekends or daily services. Weekend charter flights to the mainland are expected to start in July.
Better relations with China are expected to boost the island’s sluggish economy. China and Hong Kong together account for 41 per cent of Taiwan’s exports, compared with 12 per cent exports to the US.