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Talk of the Day -- Will Ma's Vatican visit affect cross-strait ties?

2013/03/15 22:55:51

President Ma Ying-jeou and first lady Chow Mei-ching are scheduled to depart for the Vatican Sunday to attend Pope Francis' inaugural Mass on March 19.

The visit comes at a sensitive time, as the mainland Chinese government is undergoing a once-in-a-decade changing of the guard.

Local media reports quoted unidentified government officials as saying that Ma's Vatican visit is not expected to have any impact on the status quo of the cross-Taiwan Strait relations.

Many scholars hailed Ma's upcoming Vatican visit, saying it will contribute to Taiwan's efforts to promote substantive relations with major foreign countries.

"The occasion will offer Ma opportunities to interact with political heavyweights from countries around the world," said Chen I-hsin, a Tamkang University professor.

Yen Chen-sheng, a researcher at National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations, said Ma's visit will help further consolidate Taiwan's relations with the Vatican.

Moreover, he said, Ma's trip can help upgrade Taiwan's international profile because the head of state's overseas visit is a telling symbol of national sovereignty.

Beijing tends to try to limit Taiwan's diplomatic exposure, part of its insistence that the island is part of its territory, with no sovereign rights of its own.

The Vatican is Taiwan's only diplomatic ally in Europe. The two countries have maintained diplomatic ties since 1942.

Vice Foreign Minister Vanessa Shih said at a Presidential Office news conference that Taiwan had no contact with China on the issue of Ma's visit.

She said the Vatican's invitation reflected the fact that "we and the Vatican share common values like religious freedom, social justice and humanitarianism."

Alexander Huang, a Tamkang University professor, said it was still too early to tell if newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping had any involvement in the matter, or whether it signaled a new, more liberal Chinese line on increased diplomatic space for Taiwan.

But some analysts reminded the government that a planned visit to Taiwan by U.S.-based blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng might cause ripples in cross-strait ties.

Chen's application to visit Taiwan in June is still pending government approval.

The following are excerpts from local media coverage of latest developments in cross-strait ties:

United Evening News:

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged Taiwan at a regular news briefing in Beijing Friday to "bear in mind the overall situation and deal prudently with sensitive issues."

She also reiterated Beijing's hope that the Holy See would take steps to create conditions for improvement of China-Vatican relations and gradually remove barriers.

On Thursday, Hua said a precondition for China to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican is for it to drop recognition of Taiwan.

Hua's remarks have caused attention in local society as the two sides have been observing an unofficial diplomatic truce since President Ma took office in May 2008 and called for cross-strait reconciliation.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Hua was just repeating China's stubborn stance.

The Presidential Office has refrained from making any response as it is adopting a low-profile approach toward Ma's upcoming Vatican visit.

Moreover, Presidential Office sources said the Chinese government is undergoing a sweeping reshuffle and its new foreign minister will not this weekend.

It remains to be seen whether the new Chinese government will unveil new policy or strategy toward Taiwan, the sources said. (March 15, 2013).

Liberty Times:

Lin Chong-pin, a former vice mainland affairs minister, said China's new president, Xi Jinping, will adopt a softer and more skillful approach in dealing with cross-strait affairs.

As Xi won a far greater number of votes in China's ceremonial presidential election than his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, he would have greater freedom in handling cross-strait ties, Lin said.

He predicted that Xi will use more flexible strategies to win Taiwan people's hearts and minds.

Against this backdrop, Lin said, Taiwan's government should be more cautious in handling cross-strait issues. (March 15, 2013).

(By Sofia Wu)