Although the People First Party is not a big presence in Taiwan, it is the staunchest advocate of closer relations with the mainland. The mainland visit by the party's leader James Soong Chu-yu may in the longer term help both sides to explore more pragmatic solutions to the current cross-strait stalemate. Following hot on the heels of the visit by Chinese Kuomintang leader Lien Chen, Soong came to build bridges and he left having done that. These visits are seen as a good opportunity to improve relations across the strait and any dialogue with the Central Government will create a comfortable environment for future trade and nongovernmental communications.
On Mother's Day, May 8, James Soong Chu-yu met his 87-year-old mother in Changsha, Hunan Province, who specially came from Taiwan to Soong's hometown, Xiangtan, to pay homage to ancestral tombs. Along with 10 other family members, Soong, Chairman of the People First Party (PFP), Taiwan's second largest opposition party, paid respects at the family ancestral tombs after having crossed the strait for another in a series of historic visits to the mainland by Taiwanese opposition political parties.
"People on both sides of the strait share the same ancestral origin, culture and language and should unite to strive for rejuvenation of the whole Chinese nation," said Soong in a veiled reference to Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian. Chen rejects the "1992 consensus," an informal agreement that commits both sides of the strait to the one-China principle, while pushing hard for "Taiwan independence." Since 2000, when Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became the ruling party in Taiwan, cross-strait tensions have been stretched to breaking point.
In a bid to help ease these tensions through bilateral ties, the mainland has been calling for consultation with all Taiwanese parties, organizations and individuals that uphold the "1992 consensus," oppose 'Taiwan independence" and promote closer cross-strait relations. It was under these circumstances that Soong led his party to the mainland, just two days after the Kuomintang (KMT) delegation, Taiwan's largest opposition party, headed by its chief Lien Chan, touched down back on Taiwan soil after their own eight-day visit.
Soong and his 60-member delegation started the visit on May 5, taking in Xi'an, Nanjing, Shanghai, Changsha and Beijing. Beijing was Soong's most important stop where he met General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Hu Jintao and issued a communique calling on the mainland and Taiwan to resume peace talks and enhance economic ties across the Taiwan Strait.
"The main purpose of our tour to the mainland is to promote the correct development of relations across the Taiwan Strait, since some Taiwan politicians are obviously moving in the wrong direction in dealing with cross-strait relations," Chang Chau-hsiung, Vice Chairman of the PFP, told Beijing Review.
"The KMT and PFP's mainland tour and their direct talks with the CPC will greatly ease up the current tense relations in the Taiwan Strait and promote peace," said Li Yihu, a member of the Institute of Taiwan Studies on the mainland, adding that these visits open new channels for cooperation.
Going back to his roots
Soong has various connections with the mainland. He was born in Xiangtan in 1942 and his father Soong Ta was a general of the KMT's army. Soong's family left the mainland for Taiwan in 1949, when the KMT was defeated by the CPC in a civil war.
However, Soong's first stop of his mainland visit was not Xiangtan, but Xi'an in Shaanxi Province to pay homage to the Mausoleum of Huangdi, a legendary ancestor of the Chinese nation. His mausoleum is in Huangling County, more than 100 km away from Xi'an.
Soong himself read out a commemorative article at the memorial service, saying that "Chinese descendants should not forget their ancestral roots and both sides of the strait should live in peace like a family."
Wang Decai, a retired worker in Huangling County, told Beijing Review that he made a special trip to the mausoleum with his wife after he heard that Soong would be there. "Soong's homage-paying to Huangdi symbolizes the unity of the Chinese nation. If I have the opportunity, I will go to Taiwan to see the compatriots there," he added.
"After all, Soong is a son-in-law of Shaanxi," smiled Wang's wife, referring to the fact that Soong's wife Chen Wan-shui was born in the province's Qishan County.
"Although we are all from different parts of China, we should not forget that Huangdi is our common ancestor. All Chinese should help each other to achieve prosperity," said Lui Wen-hsiung, a member of the PFP delegation.
Soong's second stop was Nanjing, where he paid homage to the tomb of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, an outstanding forerunner of China's democratic revolution in the early period of last century and founder of the KMT.
"The spirit of Sun is immortal. Who but people of our generation can shoulder his ideal of rejuvenating the Chinese nation and enriching the Chinese people," said Soong, who was previously a member of KMT.
According to Chang Kwang-ching, a member of PFP delegation, Soong's return to his hometown is the beginning of a new cross-strait situation. "We should take this opportunity to consider what political wisdom can be used to bring about heart-to-heart connections among people across the Taiwan Strait," Chang told Beijing Review.
Important meeting with Hu
In Beijing, the last leg of Soong's mainland tour, he met CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao on May 12, the first time the two have met.
"I sincerely hope the PFP delegation's mainland tour could build a bridge of mutual trust between the two parties and a bridge of communications among the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait," noted Hu, adding that it is the common aspirations of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to maintain peace and stability and promote mutual development.
The CPC leader reiterated that the mainland is ready to talk with anyone and any political party in Taiwan who accepts the one-China principle and the "1992 consensus."
"No matter what he has said or done in the past, we are ready to talk to them on development, cross-strait relations and promotion of national reunification," Hu told Soong.
Soong responded that he is full of hope that the Chinese people will be able to resolve their past misunderstanding and problems on their own.
"Not only all the Chinese people around the world, but all countries in the world show great concern over the results of our meeting today," said Soong.
After their talks, a communique was issued, in which both parties agreed that if Taiwan does not seek independence, there will be no military conflicts across the Taiwan Strait.
"Military conflicts shall be effectively avoided so long as there is no possibility that Taiwan moves toward 'Taiwan independence,'" according to the communique.
The CPC and PFP also vowed to promote the realization of two-way direct flights across the Taiwan Strait by 2006 and called for strengthening of cross-strait economic and trade exchanges, especially intensifying agricultural cooperation and increasing sales of Taiwan farm produce in the mainland.
Soon after the historic Hu-Soong meeting, the mainland pledged to offer more conveniences to Taiwan compatriots by facilitating their cross-strait trip, study and employment on the mainland.
Chen Yunlin, Director of the Taiwan Work Office of the CPC Central Committee, announced that the mainland will further facilitate the entry and exit of Taiwan compatriots to and from the mainland, cut tuition of students from Taiwan at mainland universities and ease job terms on Taiwan compatriots who are willing to work on the mainland.
This is another gesture of affinity of easing tensions across the Taiwan Strait, following mainland's promises to present Taiwan a pair of giant pandas, lift the ban for the mainland residents to travel to the island and open its market wider to Taiwan's farm produce earlier this month.
"Soong's visit to the mainland may only be the first small step, but it can be seen as a giant leap in promoting cross-strait relations. The exchanges and cooperation between the mainland and Taiwan have promising prospects," said Chang Kwang-ching.