Call for respect for cross-strait differences

Call for respect for cross-strait differences
Mr Zhang Zhijun (second from left), director of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, with New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (in blue) visiting an elder-care home.

NEW TAIPEI CITY - Out under the baking sun, banner-waving protesters shouted: "Taiwan, China; one side, one country."

With their cries ringing in his ears, a man touted as a future president of Taiwan told a visiting Beijiing official yesterday that future cross-strait ties should evolve and proceed on the principle of respecting differences rather than simply setting these aside.

"In the past, we spoke of qiu tong cun yi," said New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu. The proverb - to seek common interests while shelving differences - has long been used by Chinese and Taiwanese leaders to diplomatically describe how the former enemies should interact.

Now, this should change, he said. "We should move towards qiu tong zun yi... and respect the Taiwanese people's differing views and choices." The phrase means to seek common goals while respecting differences.

Mr Zhang Zhijun, director of the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office who was visiting Taiwan's most populous city, did not address this point head- on, but stressed that the key to addressing challenges lies in stepping up exchanges.

The remarks by Mr Chu, a darling of the ruling Kuomintang party, carry weight as he is viewed as a likely successor to President Ma Ying-jeou in the 2016 election.

The word switch from cun (set aside) to zun (respect) is a crucial one, said political scientist Chen I-hsin of Tamkang University. He noted that Beijing officials and academics would disparage, on the quiet, Taiwan's "noisy and chaotic" democratic system. "But they need to thoroughly understand and respect that this is how our system is," he added.

Mr Zhang, China's first top cross-strait affairs official to visit Taiwan, was himself dogged by pro-independence protesters as he moved through the city meeting local people.

In his remarks, Mr Zhang sought to remove one thorn in cross-strait ties when he said that care should be taken to ensure small and medium-sized enterprises, and not just big businesses, reap the benefits of more exchanges.

It appears a tacit acknowledgement that China's policy of wooing Taiwan via expanding economic and business links will have to be fine-tuned.

Any cross-strait accord must take into account the needs of "losers" hurt by such a pact rather than the desires of the "winners", Mr Chu said separately.

Mr Zhang visited an elder-care home where he lunched with residents. On learning that one of them has 29 grandchildren, he shared his thoughts on China's one-child policy. He noted the pressure on his daughter, now aged 23, who has to take care of her aged parents, parents-in-law and her own children in future.

This article was first published on June 27, 2014.
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