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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Business pushes for Taiwan-China talks
Taiwan's  Kao is keen to expand his stores in China
Taiwan's Kao is keen to expand his stores in China

Taiwan's top businessmen say they are ready and willing to represent the island in political negotiations with China in order to break the deadlock between the two sides.

Some of the island's top tycoons, including Formosa Plastics Group chairman Wang Yung-ching and Kao Chin-yen, head of food giant Uni-President, are preparing to step forward.

Kao Chin-yen of Uni President
Kao Chin-yen wants more links with China
They made their comments following Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's recent suggestion that the island's civil organisations could negotiate with China on its behalf.

Many businessmen are keen on the idea, particularly after China welcomed the proposal.

Beijing even indicated it would be happy to deal with Mr Wang and Mr Kao.

Self-interest?

However, some government insiders and academics have raised questions about why businessmen, many of whom head companies that invest in China, are so keen to step into the political fray.


These bosses think their business interests coincide with the island's interests

Professor Hsu Chen-min
President Chen's suggestion that civil groups could represent his government was just one of several ideas floated by the president to kick-start talks between Taipei and Beijing, which stalled in 1999.

Despite trade and cultural contact between the two sides, Beijing and Taipei do not have official ties because China considers Taiwan a renegade province which should be reunited with the mainland.

Jean-Yves Yao, a Uni-President spokesman, said: "Mr Kao has said that if the government asks him for help he would be honoured and willing to help for the sake of the country, if the government thinks he is the right person."

And Daniel Hsiao, director of sales and marketing for Nan Ya Plastics Corporation, part of the Formosa Plastics Group, said Mr Wang would also be glad to help out.

Wang was recently reported to have said: "If the government needs me, I won't reject the call. The direct links policy can no longer be stalled."

Other Taiwanese business leaders are also said to be prepared to take part in negotiations with China.

But a source from Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which is responsible for the island's relations with China, said many people were "a little suspicious" of the relationship between Kao, Wang and China.

The source, who did not want to be named, said: "There seems to be some kind of elaborate arrangement, and many people believe it does take two to tango.

"There is some doubt over these men. Some people think their purpose is just their own business advantage so we do need to be very careful."

Direct links

Taiwanese businessmen have certainly been pushing for direct trade, transport and postal links between the two sides over recent years, links that were cut in 1949 at the end of China's civil war.

Taiwan firms have invested heavily in China over the last decade -- last year the official investment figure was $2.6bn, and many want improved ties to boost their businesses further.

Only a few days ago, Wang Yung-ching told a Formosa Plastics shareholders' meeting he would welcome direct links between China and Taiwan.

And Uni-President is hoping to open thousands of 7-Eleven convenience stores, which it currently has the franchise for in Taiwan, in China.

However, Professor Hsu Chen-min, of National Taiwan University, said although these businessmen have something to gain from improved ties, they also see themselves as having a patriotic duty to help the Taiwan government.

He said: "Direct links are certainly crucial to the Taiwanese economy. But these bosses think their business interests coincide with the island's interests."

Debate continues

Despite interest in the scheme in both Taiwan and China, the proposal is not going to get the go-ahead overnight.

There will have to be discussions on such things as the businessmen's exact role before they are allowed to negotiate with China on behalf of Taiwan.

Taiwan's MAC has already tried to downplay expectations following President Chen's initial remarks in order not to build up hopes.

The MAC source said: "We first of all need to discuss this with various businessmen and evaluate all possibilities before we move forward."

See also:

07 Nov 01 | Business
22 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
27 Mar 02 | Business
09 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 May 02 | Business
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