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MAC chief's visit to mainland should trigger strategic planning

After the coming Chinese New Year, Minister Wang Yu-chi of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) will step on mainland Chinese soil and meet with Zhang Zhijun, head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the mainland's State Council. Representatives from the governments of both sides of the strait will thus meet in an official capacity instead of through the semi-official Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF).

The mainland has been pushing Taiwan to engage in political discussions in the hope of achieving its dream of “unifying” China. Obviously, China is confident that it has the wherewithal to draw Taiwan into “unification.” With the imminent inception of this new phase, it is time to call the citizenry's attention to how a viable strategic blueprint for cross-strait relations might be created.

The majority of Taiwanese are not going to accept unification, let alone the “one country, two systems” formulation, a fact confirmed by repeated surveys. The system does not establish parity between two entities, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, that the island's free people have come to expect.

Contrary to calls from some pan-blue media, urgently rushing toward all-out negotiations is not a good idea. This school of thought states that there is some sort of capital that Taiwan currently possesses and which should be applied for maximum bargaining efficacy because it is drained away as China becomes stronger and stronger. Besides imparting a sense of dread, the idea is not helpful because it rests on an overly optimistic view of China's development and an overly pessimistic view of Taiwan's.

Some versions of this assumed rebalancing harp on the advantages of Chinese culture, stages of economic advancement and democracy. Proponents argue that China is rapidly bringing itself closer to achieving these important milestones, and that it is only a matter of time before there is nothing Taiwan has that Beijing doesn't.

What this view misses is that in any of these areas, there is no reason to assume that the benefits imparted by China's progress to itself won't also substantially benefit Taiwan as well. In the event that China becomes more democratic, more prosperous and more aware of its traditional heritage, there would be more reason for Taiwan to expect a better future in whatever association it holds with China.

However, “unification” in the current state, with human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and other groups still rife in China as mainland society remains enchained by media control as well as party control of the justice system, will result in Taiwan's valued freedom being squandered in the context of a takeover.

Of course, preparations should be ongoing despite a wise effort at deferral. Completely deferring any negotiations in the political arena has the side effect of causing the dovish faction in Beijing to lose sway, with none of their desired progress achieved. However, truly difficult questions over fundamental differences in the two regions' core systems must still be protected from exposure in the short term.

In current negotiations, Taiwan can focus on technical issues, such as an official understanding that cultural artifacts currently under possession shall be exempt from legal challenges over ownership, which would be a concern when the National Palace Museum rents out national treasures abroad.

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