Lien Chan’s best was on display today in the Taipei Times, showing the haughty nastiness that explains why he lost two presidential elections:

Lien also blamed the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for refusing to push direct flights and open the country to Chinese tourists despite the consensus reached at the KMT-Chinese Communist Party forum in 2005 on cross-strait flights and tourism.

“It’s a shame that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait failed to engage in any form of exchanges in the past. Now we have learned our lesson that a responsible political party should promote cross-strait relations,” he said.

In reality the DPP attempted to engage, sometimes successfully, the expansionists across the street, not with the desire to cut off relations, but with the desire to preserve the island’s sovereignty. Jon Adams has an excellent, insightful discussion of this today in the FEER blog

All this amounts to a dramatic step toward normalization of economic and cultural relations. Many believe, of course, that’s also the first step toward Beijing’s long-term goal: political unification.

But rather than strongly oppose all of this, the DPP is laying low. It’s raising quibbles (Mr. Ma’s giving up too much too soon at the negotiating table) while agreeing in principle with the normalization process.

In fact, in some cases the DPP is actually complaining the new links don’t go far enough. The DPP mayor of Kaohsiung has griped that too few cross-Strait charter flights will be coming to her city. And party headquarters is peeved that the flights deal doesn’t yet include cross-Strait cargo flights, something high on Taiwan businesses’ wish list.

The DPP’s stance suggests two points worth raising:

First, it’s evidence of the broad consensus in Taiwan supporting closer economic links—but not political unification—with the mainland. Despite the supposed polarization between the independence-leaning DPP and unification-leaning KMT, moderates in both parties are in fundamental agreement on this direction.

That consensus isn’t recent. In fact, it has been apparent since the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian took power in 2000. Far from being a protectionist hardliner determined to throttle business opportunities, Mr. Chen actually began a process of economic normalization with the mainland that Mr. Ma is only continuing.

Cross-Strait trade and investment boomed dramatically under Mr. Chen, and his government in 2001 launched the “three mini-links” between Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu islands and the mainland as a first step toward broader transport links. And the Chen government spent years negotiating a deal on cross-Strait charter flights and tourists—the deal Beijing only inked when Mr. Ma came into office.

In his heart of hearts, Mr. Chen may indeed cherish the long-term goal of independence and Mr. Ma of unification—only they know for sure. But as a matter of official government policy, their stands are identical: No independence, no unification, preserve the political status quo, but expand cross-Strait economic ties.

The only difference between the two governments is on the pace and scope of normalization—Mr. Ma is willing to move more quickly (the DPP says too quickly) on a raft of issues.

But a more significant difference is Beijing’s attitude. That brings us to the second point. Despite the similarity in Messrs. Chen and Ma’s official policy positions, from Beijing’s standpoint there are large symbolic differences.

Exhibit A is Ma’s embrace of the “1992 Consensus”—a flimsy formula, never written down or formalized, to agree on “one China” while fudging its meaning. Mr. Chen’s DPP rejects that formula as a downgrade of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Exhibit B is Mr. Ma’s stress on Taiwan’s essential “Chinese-ness”—such as his description of Taiwan and China as parts of the “zhonghua minzu” (the Chinese peoples or nation). Mr. Chen never rejected that cultural link outright, but instead stressed Taiwan’s distinct culture and history in order to bolster a budding sense of Taiwan identity and pride.

To China, Mr. Ma’s shift in emphasis is critical. It suggests cross-Strait solidarity rather than separation. Here, Beijing and the KMT are allied in a culture war against the DPP—one waged through language and symbols—about what it means to be Taiwanese.

That, and not any dramatic policy shift by Mr. Ma’s government, is why cross-Strait economic relations are advancing so quickly under a KMT government.

This is one of the best discussions yet, eschewing empty hacking on the DPP that is so common in what passes for Establishment media analysis. It is exactly right. The difference between the DPP policy and the KMT policy is that the DPP had a standpoint for negotiation: sovereignty, while the KMT does not. This raises a critical issue: because the DPP had a line in the sand beyond which it would not go, it was actually in a better position to bargain with China. What exactly stops the KMT? Simply its perception of what Taiwanese voters will tolerate. In other words, with the KMT there is no clear limit to what Beijing can do to the island’s sovereignty, because the KMT offers no clear boundary to the negotiations.

Ironically, the DPP is a victim of its own success. Prior to 2000 the KMT incessantly warned that Taiwan would be attacked if the DPP were elected. Then it was. Twice. And no attack came. This seemed a signal to many, I suspect, that Taiwan could move closer to China without threat.

Professor Chris Hughes was quoted in another Taipei Times article about the cross-strait influx:

Professor Christopher Hughes, a Taiwan expert at the London School of Economics, thought that the boost from tourism had been overestimated.

His initial optimism about the thaw had also waned after conversations with Chinese officials and academics.

“Their way of thinking was: ‘Taiwan’s come over to our way of thinking; Ma’s [President Ma Ying-jeou, 馬英九] going to do what we want him to,’” he said, adding that Beijing had updated its missiles opposite Taiwan. “The question is: What is Taiwan getting out of this?”

That last question is one that isn’t getting asked enough. Ma has made all sorts of concessions — the PRC tourists come over on PRC aircraft, and the Taiwan airlines don’t get a bite of that market. This is serious; the Hong Kong-Taipei run was the busiest in the world, and now this new direct route not only cannibalizes many of those arrivals and places them in a new, more competitive route with lower profits, it also awards some of those trips to Chinese airlines only. Hughes’ comments also show, as Adams alludes to in the end of his article, that all three sides — China, Taiwan, KMT — view the rapproachment in differing terms.

What is Taiwan getting out of this? At present, all the “opening” is a headlong rush of Taiwan resources into Chinese hands….