China has proposed direct talks with Taiwan "to accomplish the great cause of national reunification." Marshal Ye Jianying, China's de facto chief of state, made the proposal, Sept. 30, and Premier Zhao Ziyang immediately seconded it at an eve-of-National-Day reception.
This proposal, far more specific than a similar overture to Taiwan made nearly three years ago, is couched in terms least likely to give offense to Taiwan. In effect it is an open-ended invitation to talk without preconditions.
First, sidestepping the question of which governs the legitimate government of China, Marshall Ye proposes talks be held, not between the two governments but between two ruling parties, the Communist Party in China and the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) on Taiwan.
Second, Marshal Ye promises Taiwan "a high degree of autonomy as a 'special administrative region.'" He continues, "It [Taiwan] can retain its armed forces. The central government will not interfere with local affairs on Taiwan."
Third, not only does the statement repeat previous guarantees that Taiwan can retain its socioeconomic system, its way of life, and its own economic and cultural relations with other countries, but also it says that "people in authority and representative personages of various circles in Taiwan may take up posts of leadership in national political bodies and participate in running the state."
Fourth, there is a curious provision that "when Taiwan's local finance is in difficulty, the central government may subsidize it as is fit for the circumstances."
Taiwan now is far more prosperous than the mainland, but the proposal may be designed to reassure islanders that in the long run, if China's modernization program succeeds, Peking stands ready to help Taiwan.
The concomitant of this fourth point is an invitation to Taiwanese businesses to invest on the mainland, and a guarantee of their rights, interests, and profits.
The proposal repeats previous suggestions to facilitate mail, trade, visits, cultural and sports exchanges. Taiwanese visiting the mainland are promised free entry and exit.
Finally, it welcomes proposals and suggestions from public figures and mass organizations on Taiwan "regarding affairs of state through various channels and in various ways."
This suggests that if Peking's terms are unacceptable to Taiwan, Taiwan could come up with counterproposals of its own, in public or in secret. "They [Taiwan ] are never going to get better terms than these from Peking," commented one diplomat. "Whatever they may say publicly, I should think they would have to give the proposal pretty careful thought."
Chinese sources said Marshal Ye's proposal was designed to allay Taiwan's fears of being gobbled up by the mainland. "What we're aiming at is reducing the fear of the Taiwanese people towards the mainland," said one high military source.
That, this source continued, was the whole point of specifically promising Taiwan could "retain its armed forces." No province or autonomous region in China had such a privilege, or would have in future, the source said, not even Tibet.
Specifically how Taiwanese would "participate in running the state" was something to be worked out in negotiations and could not be spelled out now, the source said. The continued supply of United States arms to Taiwan was a very sensitive point, on which he wished to avoid comment. He only hoped US leaders would be "very cautious" on this.
On Tian An Men Square the portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin are back to celebrate National Day Oct. 1. But pride of place in the center of the square, before the monument to martyrs of the revolution, is given to Dr: Sun Yat-sen, hero of the 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty, and first president of the Republic of China.
Dr. Sun is revered on Taiwan as the founder of the Republic and of the Kuomintang; on the mainland he is also honored as a "forerunner" of the communist revolution. Under Dr. Sun's leadership the Communists and the Kuomintang cooperated during the 1920s, and again during World War II.
Why not a third time?
That is Peking's theme song.
Whatever Taiwan's immediate reaction, Peking's "peace offensive" shows no sign of slackening.