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Zhang visit a sign of normalizing cross-strait ties: academics
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-06-29 03:29 PM
Zhang Zhijun, the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), returned to China late Saturday following a brief but eventful four-day trip to Taiwan. Scholars commenting on the Chinese official’s visit note that Zhang not only spent time with KMT officials, he was also careful to meet a number of grassroots groups around the island. His agenda was seen as a strategy designed to narrow the gap that still exists between the two sides of the strait, and it also signaled another step toward more normalized relations between China and Taiwan. Zhang faced protesters at every stop on his tour, yet observers generally believe that this experience should have little effect on cross-strait relationships and may even help the Chinese side gain a more correct understanding of the political climate and the mentality of citizens across Taiwan.

Chu Hsin-min, a Professor of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University (NCCU), notes that the mere fact that Zhang even set foot on Taiwan should be considered a new milestone in cross-strait relations that hopefully will lead to a smoother flow of communications across the strait. Chu said, "His meetings with a cross-section of leaders in Taiwan will help establish an institutionalized framework for carrying out cross-strait affairs. With such an institutionalized pipeline in place it will be easier to maintain smooth connections. You can then deal with any problem at any time and get a reaction from the other side. I think this is extremely important."

Chu added that Zhang was willing to meet DPP Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu even in the face of fierce public protests. The DPP remains less positive than the KMT in its dealings with the other side in political matters, he said. Thus although relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the DPP have made some progress, there is still no consensus between the two parties on many matters, something that must be established before they can engage in mutual trust and dialogue.

Szu-Chien Hsu, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Academia Sinica, points out that Zhang chose to emphasize “three middles and one youth” in his targets for this visit, meeting with owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), people and organizations in Central and Southern Taiwan, and citizens from the middle and lower class, as well as a number of youth groups such as students. Although the people ultimately selected to participate in these meetings were carefully vetted, still the approach taken by Zhang in arranging his meetings was interesting and indicative of a real interest in how the citizenry of Taiwan view cross-strait relations.

Hsu noted that Zhang ran into determined protesters at every leg of his trip, pointing out that strong negative reaction led to cancellation of some public appearances and even cut short the end of his visit in Taiwan. At the same time, the strength and directness of the protests should make it very clear to Zhang that there are many different voices and opinions among the people of Taiwan clamoring to be heard. Hsu also criticized the actions of police in evicting and squashing protests and demonstrations during Zhang’s visit. He urges the government to review police strategies and aims to see where improvements can be made to ensure that in the future they will be able to guarantee the security of visitors like Zhang while also protecting the freedom of speech of the people of Taiwan.

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