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04/17/2013

News / Taiwan to open representative offices in China

Taiwan is set to open de-facto consulates in the People’s Republic of China and allow Beijing to do the same on its soil, according to a bill that is all but certain to receive approval in the country’s parliament. The gesture comes as the latest in a series of amiable moves between the two republics that had been on the brink of war with each other for decades.
The bill, which was introduced in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, last week, follows a conceptual agreement last year by negotiators from both sides. Its passage is virtually guaranteed as the ruling Kuomintang party controls the parliament.
The de-facto consulates will not represent the governments of China and Taiwan directly, but will be representative offices of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), both of which are organization controlled by the Chinese and Taiwanese governments respectively.
Wang Yu-chi, the Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s main body responsible for China policymaking, appeared before the Legislative Yuan Tuesday to explain how the legislation is to be implemented.
SEF will start by opening one representative office in Beijing and may later open two more in central and southern China, although plans to branch out to other regions and cities in China are not ruled out. ARATS will also begin by opening one office in Taiwan, although Wang noted that the Mainland Affairs Council would oppose attempts to set up ARATS offices in every Taiwanese province, Taiwan’s English-language China Post newspaper reports.
“There is of course a possibility of an increase in the future ... according to the actual needs of the two sides,” Wang stated.
It is unclear whether the representative offices will be allowed to hoist the flags of the countries they represent and who the staff members will be. What is known is that SEF offices will be staffed by Taiwanese officials, although officials and parliamentarians are still debating exactly which ministries should be represented.
Wang noted that the personnel of the SEF representative offices in China will come from the Mainland Affairs Council, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture. He also said that the Department of Health wants to have its staff on board in order to keep track of the latest epidemic-related information on the mainland.
While the bill has largely been supported by the pro-reunification Kuomintang party, which was once the ruling party of all of China, it was criticized by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has been pushing for independence and disassociation from China.
“It would be harder for Taiwan to break away and claim we are not under China’s jurisdiction,” Joseph Wu, the executive director of DPP’s policy committee was quoted by The Christian Science Monitor as saying. “We need to clear the doubt that Taiwan is not part of China.”

The government of the Republic of China was once in control of China in its entirety, but was forced to flee to Taiwan in 1949 after the communists, led by Mao Zedong, won the country’s civil war. Until very recently, the countries have had virtually no diplomatic, commercial and political relations, and full-scale war was narrowly avoided on several occasions, in large part because of US intervention to back Taiwan.
The inauguration of Ma Ying-jeou as president of Taiwan in 2008 ushered in a new era for relations between the two countries. President Ma, who had campaigned on a platform of improving ties with the mainland, brokered negotiations that led to the establishment of air travel, mail service and active trade between the two countries without actual diplomatic recognition.
China has become Taiwan’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade reaching $121.6 billion last year. Approximately 1 million Taiwanese moved to China to conduct business, while over 2.5 million Chinese tourists visited Taiwan last year.
Many tourists and businesspeople visiting Taiwan or China have been complaining about the lack of diplomatic support from their native countries, and have been calling for the establishment of representative offices. Setting up ARATS and SEF offices is expected to partially satisfy this growing demand for consular services.


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