Chair Su Tseng-chang's Interview with the Wall Street Journal

August 1, 2012

TAIPEI—Taiwan's top opposition leader pledged to reassess his party's traditionally combative stance toward Beijing, but said he hopes mainland officials will make changes, suggesting the party will continue to grapple with how to treat the island's growing economic ties with China.

Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang said in an interview this week that his party is willing to be "flexible" in its approach to Beijing, amid tighter cross-strait business relations and as China slowly evolves into a more open society.

The former defense lawyer also said that he hoped for improved relations under Xi Jinping, who is expected to become China's president during a coming leadership transition, and that he would be willing to become the first DPP chairman to visit China if such a trip could foster better ties with Beijing.

Still, he emphasized that the DPP remained committed to its pro-independence stance, compared with the open-ended "one China" consensus between the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang.

"What has changed in the DPP is the attitude and approach toward China, but we will never give up our beliefs and values that Taiwan is an independent sovereign country," Mr. Su said.

"No amount of money is worth losing our freedom and democracy over, because those are Taiwan's core values," he added. "As we pursue further economic development and trade flows with China, we must not give up our status as a sovereign nation based on a system of freedom and democracy."

Mr. Su said he is hoping China's Mr. Xi will embrace a more tolerant approach when it comes to "ideological differences" across the strait. He cited in part Mr. Xi's extensive interactions with Taiwanese businessmen during his service in Fujian provincial government from 1985 to 2002.

"I hope he will have a better understanding of Taiwan, take a more accommodating attitude and more modern approach to improve the relations between the two sides," he said. "Hopefully, Taiwanese businessmen in China will be given better and more reasonable protection, and there will be less confrontations and more dialogues and exchanges."

The potential for strained relations between Beijing and Taipei helped the Kuomintang and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou defeat the DPP and then-opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen in January elections. While the "one China" consensus leaves unresolved questions about reunification, it also has led to warmer ties between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party.

The DPP, by contrast, has long had a reputation for taking a hard line with Beijing.

China's rising dominance politically and economically has changed the political climate in Taiwan, to one that experts say requires a softening of the DPP's China rhetoric. The DPP, for example, recently reinstated a China Affairs Department, an internal platform to handle cross-strait matters.

But the DPP continues to draw support from a core group of voters who worry that closer ties could eventually lead to political influence by Beijing in democratic Taiwan.

"Our attitude and approach is changing, but whether China will also change, that will be its own decision," Mr. Su said. Beijing "should realize we are well-intended and pragmatic, and we hope [Beijing] will change more quickly toward a positive direction."

So far Beijing hasn't signaled any peace offerings of its own. While Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office said it has "noticed" the DPP had reinstated the China department, it said China would continue to oppose the DPP's stance that China and Taiwan are separate.

"The changes in the DPP are noteworthy and China is becoming more aware that being hawkish is not the way to win the hearts and mind of the Taiwanese people," said Liao Da-chi, a political-science professor from National Sun Yat-sen University. "But unless the DPP is willing to bend on Taiwan's sovereignty, any breakthroughs will remain highly unlikely in the near term."

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