Mixed Reactions to Taiwan’s New Top China Negotiator

Mixed Reactions to Taiwan’s New Top China Negotiator
Photo Credit:kai Stachowiak@Public domain pictures

What you need to know

The Tsai administration has appointed a new head for the Straits Exchange Foundation in hopes for improving cross-Strait exchange.

Former foreign minister Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) has been appointed as the new chairman of Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), a semi-official organization set up by the Taiwanese government to handle daily affairs between Taiwan and China.

The SEF works closely with its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS). Some communication mechanisms between the two sides have been suspended since June as Beijing attempts Taipei to recognize the “1992 consensus.”

Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang (黃重諺) announced the appointment on Wednesday.

Previously a representative of Taiwan to the U.K., Tien, 78, is currently chairman of the Institute of National Policy Research. He has spent many years researching international affairs and China. Tien has also served as a top advisor to the Chinese National Federation of Industries in Taipei, working closely with the Taiwanese business sectors.

The government will rely on Tien’s expertise in China, international affairs and businesses and to help Taiwanese businesses expand its opportunities in China while maintaining stable cross-strait trades, Huang said.

Reactions to the appointment by the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration have been mixed. Some people viewed this as Tsai seeking support from pro-independence members, since Tien was minister of foreign affairs for former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and has ties with the DPP.

Ni Yongjie (倪永傑), the deputy director general of the Shanghai Taiwan Institute, expressed concerns in an article published in the Chinese-language United Daily. Ni said Tien is “very pro-independence” and that his appointment at the SEF could “spread alarm” over cross-Strait relations. Chinese officials will have to keep close watch on whether the Tsai administration takes “aggressive actions” toward China like the DPP did when Chen was in office, Ni argued.

Meanwhile, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) told CNA NEWS that only when the SEF has accepted the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” policy will ARATS resume negotiating and authorizing Taiwanese businesses to operate in China with the SEF.

TAO Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) told the CNA that the key issue of resuming talks between SEF and ARATS lies in mutual “political foundations”, not the leaders of the groups. He said China’s fundamental policies regarding Taiwan would not change, and it will continue to adhere to the “1992 Consensus” and firmly oppose any form of "Taiwan independence" secessionist activities.

Former vice-president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) praised the appointment, saying that while some people think of Tien as extremely pro-independence or “deep green,” she only regards him as “light green,” someone who is less aggressive than the “deep greens.” Lu said she believes that Tien could put politics aside at his new job and do well with his abilities and knowledge. She praised the administration for the decision. “She finally figured it out,” she said of Tsai.

Tien’s appointment is expected to be ratified at the next board meeting of the SEF. The Mainland Affairs Council will inform ARATS after the appointment is settled and seek to communicate and resume talks on the cross-Strait exchange issues.

Edited by J. Michael Cole