01/08/2007, 00.00
CHINA - TAIWAN
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Beijing-Taipei: economic ties soar despite controversies

2007 kicked off with reciprocal provocation between the two countries. But meanwhile, economic and tourism ties are growing fast. Experts say the political controversy will not impinge on economic ties.

Taipei (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The year started as it finished: marked by the controversy between China and Taiwan. But rather than political clashes, it is steadily growing social and economic ties that are assuming ever more importance.

 

In his New Year address, the Taiwanese president, Chen Shui-bian, waved the idea of possible independence for the island, reiterating that “only the people of Taiwan have the right to decide the future of Taiwan.” Beijing’s answer was swift with a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office recalling that China “is on guard against all secessionist initiatives”. In the days that followed, representatives of the Chinese government urged Washington to respect its commitments with China with regard to Taiwan, meaning progressive disengagement.

 

On 31 December, Joseph Wu Jau-shieh, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council chairman, criticised Hong Kong's electoral system, saying Beijing wanted to inhibit the development of democracy in Hong Kong. He was speaking during a teleconference with Kuan Hsin-chi, chairman of the Civic Party of Hong Kong. Beijing’s press office countered this by accusing Taiwan of collusion with political groups of Hong Kong to compromise ties with China. Beijing has long been offering Taiwan a status similar to that granted Hong Kong.

 

Despite the commotion of the controversy between Beijing and Taipei, social and economic ties between the two countries are growing non-stop. Taiwan firms have made direct investments in China totalling more than US0 billion and 50% of people travelling from Taiwan head for mainland China.

 

Significant developments are expected in the tourist sector too. Now Chinese tourists must get special permission and direct flights are allowed only for the big feasts, avoiding a lay over in Hong Kong. Agreements in the pipeline would allow – by the Lunar New Year that falls on 18 February – up to 1,000 tourists every day. There is also talk of allowing weekly direct charter flights, even if sectors of the PDP government are opposed to this for fear that easier exchanges may encourage de facto dependence on Beijing.

 

Experts attribute the proclamations of independence by Chen to the imminence of political elections slated for December 2007 and a presidential poll set to take place in March 2008. After all, December’s municipal elections handed victory to his Democratic Progressive Party despite scandals that rocked his family and the DPP and the sluggish national economy. This shows that the pro-independence spirit is indeed widespread. Chen has long announced constitutional reform will take place in 2007 to pave the way for declaration of Taiwan’s independence, although his political opponents accuse him of seeking to draw popular attention away from the scandals overwhelming his family and party.

 

For its part, Beijing has seen that threats only play into the hands of the DPP policy and could create tension with the United States. But economic ties are steadily growing with the US, to say nothing of the need to cooperate in crises like Iran and North Korea. The 2005 Anti-Secessionist Law, in which Beijing provides for the use of military force against any breakaway bids by Taiwan, brought only critical reactions. Now it seems that China will wait for the 2008 presidential poll, perhaps hoping that a less hostile president will triumph, like the head of Kuomintang Ma Ying-jeou. However, KMT has also drawn attention to the fact that, according to a recent survey, more than 60% of Taiwanese do not consider themselves to be Chinese citizens.

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