Let's Meet, Taiwan Leader Urges Chinese President

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Taiwan's new leader Tuesday challenged Chinese President Jiang Zemin to follow the example set last week by the leaders of North and South Korea by agreeing to a Beijing-Taipei summit.

Addressing a press conference marking his first month in office, President Chen Shui-bian also invited the United States to play a larger role in finding a peaceful settlement between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Chen said the Koreans' summit had been a "historic stride forward."

"We can also make changes and create history. This is the common wish of people across the Taiwan Strait. I believe we will have the same wisdom and creativity to fulfill the mission impossible."

He urged Jiang to agree to hold a similar face-to-face meeting, at a venue and according to a format of his choice. There should also be no preconditions set by either side, he said.

But reports from the region say China's immediate reaction to Chen's offer was simply to repeat its demand that Taiwan adopt its "one China" policy, which seeks eventual reunification of the island democracy with the communist mainland.

Chen's predecessor's refusal to accept that policy to China's satisfaction led to a freeze last year on semi-official talks between the two sides.

Chen suggested that his election - which ended five decades of Nationalist rule in Taiwan - could also spell the end of the era of confrontation and help prepare the way for eventual reconciliation across the strait.

On the mainland, he added, improved political stability could also encourage a more positive attitude on Jiang's part.

Chen offered another gesture of goodwill to the mainland. He said Taiwan could support Beijing's bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, and possibly even co-host some of the sporting events.

He called for further U.S. involvement in the regional dispute.

"If the United States is willing, it can play a more active role. Keeping peace between the two sides of the strait is not just in Taiwan's interest, it is also in the United States'."

China's threats to invade Taiwan if it pursues independence presents Washington with one of its most pressing foreign policy challenges. The Clinton administration is seeking improved ties with Beijing, but Taiwan continues to enjoy strong support in Congress.

Last week's meeting in Pyongyang between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korea's Kim Jong-il led to a pledge to seek reconciliation.

Relations between the two Koreas, which split in the 1950s, have been among the most frigid between neighbors anywhere in the world.

By contrast, ties between ordinary Chinese and Taiwanese have been relatively good. Chen has also agreed to allow direct shipping links with the mainland, conditional on a return to the cross-strait talks broken off last July.

Yet as long as Taiwan continues to insist the two sides meet on equal terms, Beijing looks set to refuse a resumption of the dialogue.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow