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Economic Cooperation Improves Cross-Strait Relations

Interviewee: Chong-Pin Lin, Professor, Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies, Tamkang University, Taipei
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
November 21, 2008

Earlier this month, in a turning point for China-Taiwan relations, China's chief of Taiwan policy, Chen Yunlin, the most senior diplomat to visit Taiwan since 1949, visited his counterpart in Taipei. The historic five-day trip (Xinhua) resulted in cross-strait agreements on direct shipping, air transport, postal services and food safety. Chong-Pin Lin, Taiwan's former deputy defense minister and first vice chairman of mainland affairs council, says the meetings not only herald increased exchange between China and Taiwan, but open up the possibility of high-level talks among the top leaders of the two countries.

Lin says the election of President Ma Ying-jeou in March, who promised better relations with China, indicates that people in Taiwan are more concerned about economy at present, and believe they need to have increased economic cooperation with China for higher growth. In China too, there has been a remarkable change in policy toward Taiwan in recent years, he says. "China used to be so reactionary, so easily offended," he says. However, in recent times, China "has shown agility, sophistication, and softness" in its approach toward Taiwan.

But not all of Taiwan supports closer relations with China. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party held several demonstrations opposing Chen's visit to Taiwan this month. Lin says the opposition believes that closer contact with China will be a blow to Taiwan's sovereignty. Beijing's continued deployment of short range ballistic missiles across the Taiwan strait, and its efforts to block Taiwan's entry into international organizations, also remain an obstacle in improvement of relations, says Lin.

On how an Obama presidency may differ from the Bush administration's policies on Taiwan, Lin says until now the only perceptible difference is on the issue of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. He says Obama's team has so far refused to guarantee submarine and F-16 fighter jet sales that the Bush administration was expected to push for in the future.


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