Reading the tea leaves, more often than not, is a reliable way as any to discern the policymaking intentions of new political leaders. But when it comes to cross-strait relations, the practice appears to be a thing of the past as Taipei and Beijing understand it is in the best interests of both sides—and the rest of the world—if their exchanges remain on track and characterized by a high level of good will.
This pragmatic approach was on show Nov. 15 when ROC President Ma Ying-jeou sent a congratulatory message to Xi Jinping, who took over from Hu Jintao earlier in the day as head of the Chinese Communist Party and mainland China’s military. Ma urged Xi to continue peacefully developing cross-strait ties and bolstering exchanges across a spectrum of areas.
Ma also sent a message to Hu, describing him as integral to the development of cross-strait relations over the past four years and resumption of institutionalized consultations that delivered 18 agreements and two consensuses, greatly easing tensions and promoting peace across the Taiwan Strait.
Given this impressive progress, there is every reason to expect Beijing’s cross-strait policy will remain unchanged despite its leadership transition. Mainland China has established a systematic Taiwan policy unlikely to shift during the course of future exchanges.
The reality is that Taipei-Beijing ties are at their highest point in six decades thanks to the efforts of both sides and an adherence to the 1992 consensus. Taiwan and mainland China must continue seizing every opportunity to strengthen mutual trust and cooperate sincerely on delivering greater dividends for the benefit of the people.
Such a goal is clearly understood by key officials on both sides, none more so than Lin Join-sane, new chairman of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation. Following a six-day fact-finding visit to mainland China in October, where he met with his counterpart Chen Yunlin from the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, Lin put opening reciprocal SEF-ARATS representative offices on the front burner.
This step, along with fast-tracking follow-up negotiations on the services trade pact under the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and increasing the number of mainland Chinese cities participating in the ROC government’s independent cross-strait tourist program, are low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking. Putting these issues in play is also consistent with the government’s mainland China policy of tackling economic and easy issues first, before moving on to political and more difficult ones later.
The priority now is for the ROC government to work with mainland China’s new leadership in ensuring it remains business as usual for cross-strait relations. Only this way will exchanges continue going from strength to strength and contribute to creating peaceful prosperity for both sides.