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