China calls for non-official political dialogue with Taiwan

Taipei, April 26 (CNA) Chinese officials and scholars called for non-official political dialogues between China and Taiwan Friday as former Commerce Minister Chen Deming became head of the Chinese organization responsible for dealing with Taiwan. Chen Deming took over from Chen Yunlin, who was appointed president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) in June 2008.
At the ARATS board meeting, Chen said: "As cross-strait relations go ever deeper, the two sides eventually will need to look for solutions to our difficult political problems." "The ARATS supports exchanges and discussions on political issues between academic institutions and related personnel and it also supports political dialogue between private citizens on both sides." He used the Chinese term "min jian" to indicate the unofficial nature of such dialogues.
Also at the meeting, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi said that China encourages such talks between the two sides. These dialogues could gradually create conditions for cross-strait consultations on resolving political differences and add new momentum to the comprehensive development of peaceful cross-strait relations, Yang said. In Taipei, the Cabinet's Mainland Affairs Council responded by restating the position of President Ma Ying-jeou's government. The time is not right for cross-strait political talks, said the council in a statement, adding that issues related to the people's welfare remain the priority. Despite closer economic ties and generally better overall relations with the mainland during the last five years, Taiwan's government has consistently stated that political and other more difficult issues will have to wait until economic and easier ones are resolved. The comments of Chen and Yang came after similar appeals from the top Chinese official responsible for Taiwan policies. On March 22, Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said that China and Taiwan should face squarely the political difficulties in cross-strait relations and that there should not be artificial restrictions. He applauded the suggestion for a peace forum to be organized jointly by think tanks on both sides of the Taiwan Strait in order to create conditions for future political talks. In Shanghai, Chinese scholars echoed the officials' call for non-official political dialogue. Wang Hailiang, director of the Taiwan research center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, argued Friday that political dialogues, political consultations and political negotiations are all different, and distinctions should be made. He said time is now ripe for political dialogues across the Taiwan Strait and at this first stage, people should just talk without drawing any conclusions. It would be feasible, in two to three years, to turn over what is achieved at the dialogue stage to the authorities to serve as a basis for consultations, Wang said. Huang Renwei, deputy chief of the academy, said that the meetings between Wang Daohan, late ARATS president, and Ku Cheng-fu, late chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, were the beginning of political negotiations between China and Taiwan. Those meetings were the framework for political dialogue, he said. The scholars were speaking at a forum to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic talks between Wang and Ku in Singapore, which were held April 27-29, 1993. (By Rita Cheng and Jay Chen)