China's president dangled the carrot of the country's booming economy at a forum on China-Taiwan business ties yesterday, in Beijing's latest attempt to win hearts and minds in Taiwan.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) told the roughly 500 delegates, including a former Taiwanese opposition leader, that the country offered boundless economic opportunities.
"At present, the mainland's economy is developing powerfully, which creates more space, more motivation and even more superior conditions for cross-strait economic cooperation," Hu said, with Lien Chan (連戰), honorary chairman of Taiwan's main opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, standing beside him.
The Cross-Strait Economic and Trade Forum was discussing how to boost exchanges between China and Taiwan amid controversy this week over the 2008 Olympic torch route.
Pro-independence politicians in democratic Taiwan suspect China is trying to win the island over through commercial ties, though the Beijing forum, being held this weekend for the third time, has yet to yield any new Chinese government incentives.
Taiwan investors have poured up to US$100 billion into China over the last two decades, lured by a common language and culture as well as low labor costs and close proximity to the world's fastest-growing major economy.
Lien, a twice-defeated Taiwan presidential candidate, said the two sides should put aside decades of confrontation and start talking.
"The mainland is today open to the entire world, but cross-strait relations, for reasons which everyone are familiar with, hesitate to move forward," he said.
Neither Hu nor Lien mentioned the flap over the Olympic torch.
China accused Taiwan of a "perfidious betrayal of trust" on Friday for reneging on an agreement to host a stop on next year's Beijing Olympic torch relay.
The relay schedule was unveiled by Beijing organizers on Thursday and included Taiwan as the stop before Hong Kong on the 137,000-kilometer route.
President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said on Friday Beijing should consider the torch route that Tokyo used in 1964, which means sending the flame to Taiwan from a country other than China and passing it on from Taiwan to yet another country, but not China or any of its territories.
Taiwan's top Chinese-policy maker said yesterday that the government will not interfere in the forum, but appealed to Beijing not to take the chance to cause mischief.
Vice Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council Tung Chen-yuan (童振源)said during a conference held by Taiwan Thinktank yesterday morning that the forum is a civic exchange, therefore the government will not intervene or disrupt the meeting in any fashion. Tung stressed, however, that all cross-strait exchanges should be subject to Taiwanese law, meaning that the government is the sole decision-maker when it comes to issues related to national interest.
The Cross-Strait Economic, Trading and Cultural Forum opened in Beijing yesterday, with KMT honorary chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and a delegation of roughly 500 Taiwanese attending the forum.
"Based on previous experience, the forum is unlikely to produce any substantial results," Tung said. "The nature of the forum is more about discussing and highlighting the collaboration between the two parties," Tung said, explaining that the lack of direct dialogue and negotiation mechanisms between the governments on both sides of the strait is the major reason why the two sides cannot have more cross-strait exchanges.
Tung noted there are several issues under negotiation by official representatives from both sides, including the issue of allowing more Chinese tourists to make sightseeing trips to Taiwan and the expansion of cargo and passenger charter flights across the Taiwan Strait.
"Many of the issues are gaining a certain degree of consensus from the two sides and are likely to be put into practice in the immediate future," Tung said, "but if the Beijing government uses the forum or the opposition party to engage in political manipulation of the issues, the implementation of these initiatives will certainly be delayed."