EDITORIAL: Between obstinence and capitulation

The Taipei Times
Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009, Page 8

Successful negotiations frequently involve concessions on the part of negotiators. If common ground is to be found between parties with conflicting goals, give and take is unavoidable.

Negotiators generally make concessions on matters of lesser importance while being more hard-nosed on core interests — which are usually identified before negotiations begin.

Since the late 1980s, when Taiwan and China began informal negotiations, such considerations have not only defined each side’s core interests, but also the pace of negotiations, sometimes leading to their unraveling. This is why former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — and even the Beijing-friendly administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) — insisted on first addressing practical matters of trade, tourism and services before tackling the more contentious aspects of national identity and independence/unification.

Ma’s policies, however, are now engendering a form of dependence, and negotiations have shifted from executive bodies (the Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait) and political parties (the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party) to include civil society, with business organizations and interest groups now in the game. In the process, these groups have also been compelled to make concessions, however one-sided they appear.

The problem is that such groups often lack the tools and refinement that allow professional negotiators to make more careful decisions.

One such group that has unwittingly entered cross-strait negotiations is Taiwan’s tourism sector, which has asked the Kaohsiung City Government and the organizers of the Kaohsiung Film Festival not to proceed with the screening of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer. Tour companies fear the Chinese government will act on its threat to cancel tour and hotel reservations.

Initially, Kaohsiung authorities said the film would be presented as scheduled. Then, in an apparent concession, they announced that the film would be shown ahead of schedule and without film festival trappings and services.

For people like Kaohsiung Tourism Association chairman Tseng Fu-hsing (曾福興), even this concession was “regrettable” — he would rather have seen the movie dropped altogether.

What this decision represents, though, is more than the ordinary give and take: When concessions are made on core values — freedom of expression, in this case — flexibility may appear to some, such as the filmmakers who pulled their works from the festival in protest at the schedule change, as capitulation rather than a concession.

Regrettably, the tourism industry is thumbing its nose at basic democratic principles.

Whatever this rag-tag band of tour operators did for a living before the Chinese started arriving, they must have had to work harder. Of more concern, however, is the likelihood that Beijing is counting not only on greed to bend minds, but also entrepreneurial ineptitude and sloth — longstanding characteristics of the nation’s tourism industry.

Such behavior, added to the Kaohsiung City Government’s dilly-dallying on the matter, could send a worrying signal to pro-Taiwan elements.