The idea of detente between the Nationalist Chinese and the Communist Chinese, a concept successfully suppressed here for decades by the ruling Kuominating, has been quietly resurrected by recent articles in the local Taiwanese press.
Ever since the Kuominatang fled to Taiwan in 1949, anyone advocating contacts with the mainland regime has invited swift and draconian treatment under Taiwan's martial law as a Communist spy.
But an article in the April issue of Taipei's widely circulated Chinese Humainst Monthly advocated future exchange with the mainland saying: "The mainland has oil, Taiwan has none. There should be a way to exchange between the haves and the have-nots." The articles also cited the exchange of letters via Hong Kong and the sale of certain mainland relations.
In the same issue, an article by a little-known Taipei author, Li Chingrung, attacked Taiwan-mainland enimity by quoting a traditional Chinese proverb: "The benevolent man has no enemies." Li, who described himself as "just an ordinary wirter," also disturbed what the Nationalist Chinese consider to be political skeletons in the Kuomintang closet by recalling that the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party had agreed to cooperate in fighting the Japanese in 1937, and that Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai had in fact once been Kuomintang members.
Even pictures of Mao Tse-tung, long prohibited, made an unprecedented debut here recently when foreign magaziznes carrying his photographs were permitted to go on sale uncensored.
Taiwan officials vehemently deny the possibility of dialogue with Peking. But with fewer than two dozen countries still recognizing Taipei, and with the United States determined to normalize its relations with Peking, some elements within the Kuomintang seem to be re-appraising the party's past attitudes.
One Taipei official who asked to remain anonymous recently admitted to a "re-definition" of the Nationalist goal to "counterattack" the Communists: "We do not necessarily want to make war with Peking. We want to offer another alternative that the Chinese people can choose instead of communism. We think the Chinese people need this option, and we hope it will always be available."
Nationalist Chinese Premier and Kuomintang Party chairman Chiang Ching-kuo appeared to confirm this comparatively dovish stance. U.S. Rep, Lester Wolff (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, visited Taiwan in mid-April and, upon his return to Washington, reportedly said Premier Chiang had indicated that the Nationalist Chinese government would "solve the China problem" mainly by political means and not by military force.
In contrast, as recently as November 1976, Premier Chiang had said of Mao's successor: "Except for battlefield contact in the shape of a bullet, we shall have nothing to do with him."
In recently, the Nationalist Chinese have relaxed their fiercely anti-Communist stance enough to allow the enjoyment of some Chinese Communist products.
Taipei has technically banned mainland imports, but if quietly allows a modest commercial exchange with the other side. For years, authorities have issued special licenses for the import of mainland products unavailable in Taiwan, particularly ingredients for traditional Chinese medicines. Other popular items like mao tai liquor, dried mushrooms, red and black dates, jewelry and regioal delicacies, including a tasty species of freshwater crab delivered live to Taiwan come through Hong Kong where any labels of origin are removed.
According to a conservative Honk Kong government calculation, in 1976 $40 million worth of mainland goods were "laundered" through the colony on their way to Taiwan, indicating an increase of 50 per cent over 1975 and 80 per cent over 1974.
An undetermined amount of goods are smuggled into Taiwan aboard large cargo ships. Early this year harbor police at Hualien, on Taiwan's northern coast, smashed a 12-man smuggling ring and seized contraband mainland medicinal herbs, mao tai and aphrodisiacs value at $5 million.
Small fishing boats from both sides also meet on the high seas to barter foodstuffs, especially around the Pesaedores island chain in the Taiwan Straits halfway between Taiwan and the mainland. Trade is mostly one-way, but Hong Kong statistics indicate that in the last three years $25,000 in Taiwan gods filtered through the British colony into China.
Many Taiwanese see no harm in trading with the mainland, but most reject the possibility of ideological accord. One Taiwanese intellectual said: "Importing years and Shangai seafood - why not? Mao jackets and Little Red Books' - no way.
Ironically, the potential of peace talks is most evident on the Chinese war front, the Nationalist-held offshore island chains of Quemoy and Matsu. Here, both sides have settled into a 28-year-old routine of waging civilized war.
The best example of mini-detente is the 1958 agreement, somehow negotiated between Quemoy and the mainland port city Amoy, to fire artillery shells only on alternating days, preferably in the evenings and at uninhabited areas. Moreover, the shells exchanged by both sides contain propaganda leaflets, not explosives.
EVen more unusual than peaceful was is the suggestion from some Taiwanese residents that Natiionalist Chinese and the Communist Chinese face a common enemy, exactly the situation that engineered the 1937 atempt at a united front against the Japanese.
Li Ching-rung's article in the April Humanist not only criticized Taiwan-mainland emnity, but also maintained that both sides have the same interest.
Li's article mentioned a Chinese saying - "When the snipe and the clam grab each other, the fisherman gets the profit." This evolved from a folk tale of a snipe whose beak got caught between the shells of a calm it had intended to eat; the two argued for hours until a fisherman came along and caught both of them. Li concluded by identiflying imperialism as the common enemy that both Taiwan and the mainland, as parts of China, should oppose.
Chinese of both sides are familiar with the idea of anti-imperialism, which Li took directly from the teachings of Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese Republic. But another article in the same controversial Humanist issue assailed a different target, familiar to the Communist Chinese but not often attacked by the Kuomintang: "In capitalist society, capitalists have freedom, but there is no freedom of the people; capitalists have special rights, but there is no democracy, equality, or legal control." If China - meaning both Taiwan and the mainland - intends to pursue the goals of democracy, equality and legal control, the article continued. "The Western way is a dead end. It would only be walking from one tiger's mouth into another tiger's mouth."
Many Taiwanese interpreted this anti- imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-Western diatribe as criticism of the United States.