Welcome move across the Straits
The June 25-28 visit of Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, to Taiwan is the first of its kind since 1949. In more ways than one, it is a landmark effort by mainland authorities to resolve cross-Straits issues in a peaceful way. Zhang’s visit to Taiwan is also notable for its timing, schedule and significance.
Cross-Straits ties have improved remarkably in the past fewyears, which sawthe resumption of direct flight, shipping and postal services between the mainland and Taiwan. Boosting this spirit, Xi Jinping, the top leader, said earlier this year that “both sides of the Straits are one family”. And in February, Zhang held a formal meeting with his visiting counterpartWang Yu-chi inNanjing, Jiangsu province, whereWang invited him to visit Taiwan in return.
Zhang’s scheduled visit to Taiwan, however, was delayed because of the protests against the CrossStraits Service Trade Agreement on the island in March. The protests not only delayed Zhang’s scheduled trip to Taiwan, but also created some uncertainty on both sides of the Straits over future developments.
But after the protests subsided, the two sides got down to the business of addressing the reasons for the gap between the mainland’s Taiwan policies and Taiwan’s public opinion. In fact, many political organizations in Taiwan, including the Democratic Progressive Party, the island’s largest opposition party, and civil society are eager to advance crossStraits relations by deepening mutual understanding and communications. Zhang’s visit to Taiwan is particularly important because he will be able to gauge the local public opinion, which is key to reducing the longstanding misunderstandings across the Straits.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the focus of Zhang’s visit is interactions with Taiwan grassroots institutions and individuals, which he had been reiterating since the beginning of the protests against the CSSTA. Apart from holding a second meeting with Wang Yu-chi (director of Taiwan’sMainland Affairs Council) this year, Zhang will spend three of the four days of his visit meeting the mayors ofNewTaipei City, Taichung and Kaohsiung, and interacting with local people from all walks of life and different ethnic groups.
It is thus obvious that Zhang’s itinerary has been drawn up keeping in mind the necessity of striking a balance between formal and informal meetings. For instance, the three cities on Zhang’s itinerary are in the northern, middle and southern parts of Taiwan.
As a groundbreaking trip aimed at reviving crossStraits communications, Zhang’s visit to Taiwan is of great political, social and economic importance. Taiwan society is fairly diversified where people differ drastically in their social and political views. Hence, Zhang’s direct contact and interactions with grassroots people will help him better understand the public sentiment in Taiwan. In particular, his meeting with youths and small entrepreneurs, who were at the forefront of the protests against the CSSTA, will help the mainland adjust its Taiwan policies.
It is worth noting, though, that the symbolic significance of Zhang’s visit outweighs its practical significance, because the two sides have not yet changed their basic positions, which could prevent them from reaching more agreements, and the anti-CSSTAgroup has reportedly been mobilizing people to begin a new round of protests.
But there is no denying that Zhang’s groundbreaking visit to Taiwan reflects the mainland’s determination to peacefully resolve cross-Straits issues and address Taiwan people’s worries, irrespective of the hindrance the anti-CSSTA group wants to create. More importantly, Zhang’s visit also opens a window of opportunity for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party to hold talks with the mainland and help further strengthen cross-Straits relations. The author is a professor with the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Beijing Union University.