Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:34 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 20:34 | SYDNEY

The mainland minister can go to Taiwan


Graeme Dobell

19 April 2010 08:09

Taiwanese journalists have long waged a contest entitled, 'Enrage the Chinese Foreign Minister'.

The game has been going for about 15 years at the ASEAN Regional Forum, and goes like this: at the all-in press conference with foreign ministers at the end of the ARF, Taiwanese reporters line up at the microphone to question China's Foreign Minister. The prize goes to the hack who can provoke the strongest Chinese threat against any Taiwanese move towards independence. Eliciting an explicit reference to Chinese willingness to wage war to prevent Taiwanese 'splitism' scores double points.

When Qian Qichen was China's Foreign Minister, he did a forceful version of verbal table thumping in response to such journalistic provocations. And over the years, I’ve heard many Chinese officials give a firm and sometimes belligerent version of the official line on the inevitable return of Taiwan to the motherland.

With that as background, come and listen to the mild-mannered, even relaxed words of a former Chinese Vice Foreign Minister and Chinese ambassador to the UN, Wang Yingfan, who is doing some second-track talking around Australia.

He gave a speech and took questions last week at the China Institute at the Australian National University.

His response to the Taiwan question was notable for its amiable tone as well as for how much of the old boilerplate didn't get a run. Mr Wang started with the usual affirmation that Taiwan must one day 'return to the embrace of the mainland.' From there, though, it was all charm and no chagrin:

We have a lot of contacts with people in Taiwan. The parties and even the government. So this trend is very encouraging. We have much better understanding than before. And the interests — whether economic, cultural and other fields — are intertwined. So many visitors from Taiwan to the mainland — millions, reaching three to four millions now. And a lot of Chinese on the mainland could go to Taiwan.

As a retired foreign minister, I could go to Taiwan now — although I was responsible for Taiwanese affairs in the Chinese Foreign Ministry for quite some time. I quarrelled with the Taiwan diplomatic representative in New York - they have their underground ambassador for quite some time. But now I could go to Taiwan. You could imagine, years ago that won’t be the situation.

Now there's a thought. A former Chinese Vice Foreign Minister able to contemplate a bit of gentle tourism in Taiwan. The hacks will have to invent a new game.

Photo by Flickr user Fishtail, used under a Creative Commons license.