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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 02:11 GMT
Taiwan unmoved by Chinese changes
Two Taiwanese sailors stand guard, as submarine is seen in the background, Tsoying Naval Base
The current stalemate looks set to go on

Changes at the top of China's ruling Communist Party may have far-reaching effects for the country's 1.3 billion people and the way they are governed.

But new policies and leaders that emerge from the party's Congress in Beijing could also have an influence overseas - and nowhere more than in Taiwan.

Taiwanese investor gives the thumbs up
Investors hope trade links will make a difference
A long-standing dispute between China and Taiwan over the island's permanent status has kept the two sides at loggerheads for more than half a century.

But there is little expectation in Taiwan that China's new leadership will have a new attitude towards the island.

Most people expect the current situation, in which both sides co-exist in an uneasy truce, to continue.

That is certainly the view of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, the island's top government body responsible for issues between China and Taiwan.

A spokesman said: "Assuming the continuing stability of the domestic environment in China, we do not expect fundamental changes in China's policy towards Taiwan".

The most the council is hoping for is "greater flexibility" in that policy, which shows just how low officials' expectations are.

Money matters

That view is shared by political analysts, who do not expect China's policy towards Taiwan to change.

Differences between the two sides stretch back to 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist forces fled to Taiwan following defeat by the Communists in China's civil war.

China considers Taiwan an integral part of the mainland and wants reunification. In Taiwan, opinions on the future vary, but almost no one wants reunification with China under its current leadership.

That situation has led to political stalemate. But, at the same time, economic ties are increasing, binding the two sides ever closer together.

Taiwanese businesses have invested up to $100bn on the mainland over the last decade in search of cheaper costs - something that has helped fuel China's rapid economic growth.

And many of these businessmen believe Beijing's welcoming attitude towards them will continue after the Party congress.

"They need Taiwanese people and Taiwan money to help with their economic growth," said Huang Feng-tsun, chairman of a company that makes equipment to test rubber.

"Even though their leadership might change, I think their principles will remain the same."

Other Taiwanese businessmen seem to share Mr Huang's view, investing in increasing numbers this year despite possible political changes following the party congress.

Damian Gilhawley, senior economist with KGI Securities in Taipei, said approved Taiwanese investment on the mainland was up 40% in the first eight months of this year compared with 2001.

"During the last two serious cross-Strait crises, the local governments in China made it clear they did not want to tip up the apple cart," said Mr Gilhawley.

That means Taiwanese investors believe business will remain business, regardless of any changes introduced at the Party congress.

Waiting game

Outside political and business circles there seems little interest in the congress, with the island's press far more interested in December's city elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Most ordinary people - some of whom did not even know the congress was taking place - share the common view that the current deadlock will continue.

"I don't think it will make a difference to Taiwan's relations with China. Whoever's in control will have the same opinion of Taiwan," said Lin Qiu-tsui, a 38-year-old teacher.

But the all-round low expectations in Taiwan do not mean the congress is not important to Taiwan.

The relationship between the two sides is the dominant political issue on the island. It is something which affects so many other policies it just cannot be ignored.

Taipei might not expect changes in this relationship in the short term, but it knows the fundamental, unresolved issues between the two sides will have to be addressed at some point.

That is why government officials, despite their pessimism, will certainly be closely watching events in Beijing.

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See also:

31 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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07 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Sep 02 | Country profiles
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