After two rounds of renewed cross-Strait dialogue in 2008, PRC President Hu Jintao took the initiative at the end of the year to put forward an ambitious agenda for advancing the relationship and consolidating it for the long run. He embedded his proposals squarely in the long-standing orthodoxy on “one China” and ultimate reunification. But in the most important aspect of the speech, he fundamentally, if largely implicitly, recognized that unification is at best a distant prospect. Consistent with his approach to date, he exhibited a willingness to be patient as long as developments were consistent with – or at least not inconsisten with – these two ideas.
On a tactical level, while officials on both sides continue to speak of the need to move “step-by-step,” in fact, some people in Taiwan as well as on the Mainland have shown a desire to accelerate the pace, trying to get as much as possible done while Ma and Hu are both in power. Moreover, while agreements to date have focused on specific issues such as cross-Strait transportation and tourism, Hu’s endorsement of an umbrella economic agreement – an idea Ma had first floated in the 2007-08 presidential campaign – has raised the issue to new prominence in the cross-Strait dialogue for 2009. It has also precipitated a sharp debate in Taiwan about the merits of such a deal.
Finally, the tyranny of the calendar brought the issue of Taiwan’s participation in the annual World Health Assembly meeting front and center. Although this has, as with the economic umbrella agreement, forced both sides to wrestle with domestically sensitive questions of sovereignty and status, successful handling of the issue could provide useful lessons for handling other issues of “international space” in the future. Failure, on the other hand, could seriously set back prospects for cross-Strait relations.
For the published text*, click here.
*in the upcoming issue of the China Leadership Monitor.