Kudos to a savvy politician

Lien’s logic was clear: All the commonalities between China and Taiwan make peace the sensible result.

by Diana Fu

Last week, Taiwan’s Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan shook hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao. It was a historic handshake captured by a series of shoots by various Chinese news agencies.

Lien’s visit marks the first party chairman to set foot on mainland China’s soil since 1949. It also comes right after the Chinese government passed an “anti-secession law,” which reiterated that the Chinese government will employ force if Taiwan pushes for formal statehood.

What does Lien’s visit mean for cross-strait relations with China? Right now, this is the hot-button issue in mainland China.

Although it might be too early to forecast the exact significance of this “journey of peace” visit, two things are certain. First, Lien has guts. Second, he’s smart about using “common ancestry” and economic ties as the basis for increased cross-strait dialogue.

Lien was gutsy in the face of a pro-independence riot that broke out at an airport upon his departure. He had to dodge not only eggs and firecrackers but also the charge “traitor.”

Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-Bian’s farewell present to Lien included a stern warning that he was not to sign any treaties with Hu. Despite the ruckus, Lien stepped onto mainland China with a clear punchline: “I’m here to make peace.”

After all, China does have as many as 700 missiles pointed at Taiwan. But Lien didn’t mention the missiles. Instead, he began his speech at Beijing University by applauding the university’s May 4 tradition, which marked a unique period of intellectual freedom in China between 1919-49.

He went on to say the spirit of freedom also exists at Taiwan University, thereby pointing out the academic powerhouses of both straits share the same underlying philosophy.

The parallels don’t stop here. Lien whipped out the “common ancestry” card, highlighting historical, cultural, political and economic parallels between the people across the straits.

Because Lien was born on mainland China, he strongly identifies himself as Chinese. This is evident from his speech, in which he reiterates that “we” (the Taiwanese Chinese and the mainland Chinese) are of the same blood, the same cultural heritage and thus hold the same goal of peace. The phrase, “We’re all one family, split up by civil war,” seems to be Lien’s slogan.

Playing up his glorious Chinese heritage not only garners Lien a host of mainland fans but makes him distinct from his main opposition, Chen, who advocates a policy that aims to cut cultural and historical ties to mainland China. In a few words, Lien succeeded in isolating Chen as an extremist in the eyes of mainland Chinese people.

Lien’s second strong card was in fanning the growing economic ties between Taiwan and China. His visit alone stirred considerable excitement among Taiwanese businessmen with heavy investments in China. Lien fueled their hope by saying the only way to maintain competitiveness for both sides in the market economy is to cooperate and create. Open dialogue is crucial in cooperation.

Lien’s logic is very clear. The purpose of his trip was to advocate peace. Peace because “we” are from same heritage. Peace because “we” share the same vision. Peace because of economic ties. And the only way to keep peace is to have dialogue.

If his trip turns out to be not as historic in breaking down barriers across the straits, at least it is symbolically significant. I say “Kudos” to a savvy Taiwanese politician!

Diana Fu is a University student studying in China. She welcomes comments at [email protected]