Ko’s China trip sets tone of prag­matic cross-strait ties

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Ide­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je may be­long to the so-called deep-green, pro-in­de­pen­dence fun­da­men­tal­ist camp, but his ide­ol­ogy seems to have sel­dom got­ten in the way of his prag­ma­tism, which was on dis­play in his just con­cluded trip to China.

Of course, by wel­com­ing Ko to a three-day of­fi­cial visit to Shang­hai, China has also shown some sort of prag­ma­tism, or at least it took a tiny step back from its un­wa­ver­ing ide­ol­ogy against any form of the pro-Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence cause.

It was a nec­es­sary step that Bei­jing had to take, judg­ing from the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Tai­wan: the China-friendly Kuom­intang lost a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat in last Novem­ber’s lo­cal elec­tions to the pro-in­de­pen­dence Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party, which stands a good chance of tak­ing the pres­i­dency and con­trol­ling the par­lia­ment come next year.

The warm welcome for Ko can be seen as Bei­jing test­ing the wa­ters, ex­plor­ing new ways at han­dling a DPP ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Tsai Ing-wen, the front-run­ner in the pres­i­den­tial race who has also shown a propen­sity for adopt­ing a prag­matic ap­proach to cross-strait af­fairs.

It would not be the first time that Bei­jing has dealt with a DPP ad­min­is­tra­tion. Be­tween 2000 and 2008, Bei­jing took a high-handed ap­proach, re­fus­ing to talk to then-Pres­i­dent Chen Shui-bian.

Cross-strait ties came to a stand­still un­til the more Chi­nafriendly Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT re­placed Chen.

But friend­li­ness be­tween Taipei and Bei­jing dur­ing the Ma pres­i­dency has of­ten failed to trans­late into friend­li­ness be­tween the peo­ple of the two sides. Hos­til­ity to­ward China among the Tai­wan pop­u­lace has ac­tu­ally been in­creas­ing un­der the Ma ad­min­is­tra­tion for of a host of dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

Un­less it is sat­is­fied with see­ing cross-strait re­la­tions de­te­ri­o­rate, Bei­jing may have to learn to deal with a less­friendly and po­ten­tially more prag­matic pres­i­dent from the DPP.

And all through the years since its fu­tile at­tempt to scare Tai­wanese vot­ers against sup­port­ing Lee Teng-hui’s bid to be­come Tai­wan’s first pop­u­larly elected pres­i­dent in 1996 — by test fir­ing mis­siles into wa­ters near the is­land — China must have learned one les­son: Tai­wanese sim­ply can­not be threat­ened into sub­mis­sion.

Of course, ac­tual mil­i­tary ac­tions could achieve what ver­bal threats may not. But all sides — the Chi­nese Com­mu­nists, the KMT and the DPP — know per­fectly the rules of the game: the dan­ger zone is out­right dec­la­ra­tion of Tai­wan’s in­de­pen­dence, and you won’t step into it with­out trig­ger­ing dis­as­ter.

No sen­si­ble DPP fig­ures would want to play with fire, and no sen­si­ble anal­y­sis on the China side should con­clude that Tsai would dare de­clare in­de­pen­dence for Tai­wan if elected pres­i­dent.

We can fore­see the tone of cross-strait ties for the com­ing few years: both sides will be seek­ing prag­matic in­ter­ac­tions across the strait.

But how prag­matic can the re­la­tion­ship be? Be­tween the two po­lar­ized po­si­tions — prag­ma­tism and ide­ol­ogy — there is a wide spec­trum. If Ko is nearer to the po­lar end on prag­ma­tism, how much far­ther from that po­si­tion would Tsai be? That is a ques­tion that Bei­jing is prob­a­bly look­ing to an­swer. It is a ques­tion that Tsai must be ask­ing her­self: how prag­matic can I be and how much ide­ol­ogy can I hold on to?

As mayor of a city, Ko may find it much eas­ier to set aside his ide­ol­ogy than Tsai would. As an ide­ol­ogy-ruled party, the Com­mu­nists must find it dif­fi­cult to make ma­jor con­ces­sions on ide­o­log­i­cal grounds.

Ko has been gen­er­ally lauded for say­ing he re­spects and un­der­stands Bei­jing’s “one China” pol­icy. We don’t ex­pect Bei­jing to say the same about the wish of the pro-in­de­pen­dence camp, or in­vite Tsai on a visit to China in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

But at least Bei­jing should stop plac­ing em­pha­sis on its anti-Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence ide­ol­ogy while deal­ing with the DPP.

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