China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 20, 2015
Executive Summary: If she is not to stumble along the final mile, Tsai Ing-wen's road to the presidency requires winning US trust. But the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen must amend the Taiwan independence party platform. They must improve relations with the CCP. They cannot simply accommodate the United States while ignoring Beijing/Washington/Taipei relations. If they do, they will shoot themselves in the foot, and find it impossible to walk the final mile.
Full Text below:
The KMT has been routed. Tsai Ing-wen's road to the presidency appears clear. In response to a reporter's question, Tsai Ing-wen boasted, "No matter who represents the KMT in the 2016 presidential elections, it's all the same to the DPP." Tsai Ing-wen is right to be confident. But Tsai Ing-wen's road to the presidency does not hinge solely on favorable conditions within Taiwan. Cross-Strait and international factors also play a decisive role. From that perspective, Tsai Ing-wen's "final mile" remains rife with uncertainty.
To tell this story, we must return to September 16, 2011, more than three years ago. Then DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen was visiting Washington. The US government let its feelings be known through Britain's Financial Times, which published an article entitled, "US concerned about Taiwan candidate", saying "a victory by Tsai Ing-wen... could raise tensions with China". This seriously undermined Tsai Ing-wen's campaign. The article was blunt. US officials said that Tsai Ing-wen met with Obama administration officials, and that “She left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years,”
Of course we cannot determine how many voters decided to give Ma Ying-jeou a second term because of US government doubts. But cross-Strait relations and trust between Mainland China and the United States are indeed key factors. Tsai Ing-wen lost the election. Three years later, Tsai Ing-wen visited the United States again. According to Tsai's official statement, one of the three purposes was to visit Washington and exchange views on Taipei/Washington relations and Asian-Pacific regional security with various US government agencies, including the executive branch, congress, and think tanks. Tsai Ing-wen said, "For some time communications between the DPP and the US have been good. I hope that sitting down and talking face to face during this trip will further clarify the various parties' positions". Signals from all quarters suggested that during this visit Tsai Ing-wen avoided old mistakes and clearly "accomodated the US".
Tsai Ing-wen has been promoting the DPP's "maintain the status quo" theory of cross-Strait relations. This theory has been criticized as "still hollow". It fails to make clear what the status quo is and how it would be maintained. Confronted with outside criticism, Tsai Ing-wen offers stock answers. Tsai told Yao Chia-wen and other Taiwan independence elders that her "status quo" is "the same as the US government's."
Tsai Ing-wen's explanation provoked criticism from the KMT. Tsai Ing-wen is running for the presidency of the Republic of China. How can she allow her cross-Strait policy to be determined by the US government? Tsai Ing-wen will of course say that she has her own strategic considerations. When the Democratic Progressive Party was in power, Huang Wei-feng, the MAC Vice Chairman and Deputy Representative to the United States, was blunt. He said that in trilateral Washington/Beijing/Taipei relations, Taipei was the weakest party. Therefore It is incapable of maintaining the status quo. All it can do is "go with the flow" and "not disrupt the status quo". He said the status quo is defined and maintained by the great powers, and that the current status quo is defined and maintained by the United States. Taipei cannot follow Beijing's definition of the status quo. That is why Tsai Ing-wen argued that the cross-Strait status quo should be "the status quo according to the United States."
Huang Wei-feng said that when Tsai Ing-wen visited the US, she was merely seeking agreement between Taipei and Washington on the definition of the status quo and proposing concrete solutions. She was most assuredly not disrupting the status quo as understood by Taipei and Washington. But she also wanted to voice the concerns of the people of Taiwan. She said, "This would preclude any major problems, and therefore pass muster". Clearly Huang Wei-feng's optimistic calculation is based on the dynamic relationship between Beijing and Washington.
The dispute between the United States and Mainland China in the South China Sea has recently intensified. DPP cross-Strait and international policy think-tanks consider this a golden opportunity for the DPP. They think that US vs. Mainland China confrontation in the East China Sea and South China Sea, along with Mainland China's growing political and economic strength, is changing US attitudes toward Taiwan. For example, during Tsai Ing-wen's visit to the United States, it said "Taiwan should commit itself to economic independence." The United States is now more eager for Taiwan to join the TPP.
Lai Yi-chung, former head of the DPP Delegation to the United States, expressed optimism. In 2011, the DPP was considered the troublemaker in the Taiwan Strait. Mainland China land reclamation on South China Sea islands and reefs, and its stance on the nine-dotted line, are seen by the United States as a "desire to change the status quo". When Sino-US strategic conflicts arise, the "balance appears to favor the green camp," Tsai Ing-wen's "maintaining the cross-Strait status quo" comports with US strategic interests. The US should welcome this. As one can imagine, when Tsai visits the US, she is likely to offer all sorts of concessions to the United States to win its support, on cross-Strait relations, US arms sales, the Asia-Pacific region and sensitive issues such as Taipei's support for the nine-dotted line in the South China Sea.
On the other hand, on matters of concern for the Mainland, such as the 1992 consensus and one China, the DPP will find it nearly impossible to offer any clean breakthroughs. DPP officials may imagine that as long as they accomodate the United States, Tsai can win even if the DPP fails to improve relations with the CCP. If the DPP is really that naive, it may fail yet again. When Tsai Ing-wen visited the United States in 2011, US officials criticized her, saying that it was “far from clear... that she and her advisers fully appreciate the depth of [Mainland Chinese] mistrust of her motives and DPP aspirations”.
The United States may wish to maintain influence in East Asia. Perhaps it hopes that Taiwan can help it counterbalance Mainland China. But relations between Beijing and Washington have long been a struggle without end. In September of this year, Xi Jinping will make a state visit to the United States, and firm up Sino-US relations. No matter what, the United States is unwilling to risk a break with Mainland China by supporting Chen Shui-bian's brinksmanship.
If she is not to stumble along the final mile, Tsai Ing-wen's road to the presidency requires winning US trust. But the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen must amend the Taiwan independence party platform. They must improve relations with the CCP. They cannot simply accomodate the United States while ignoring Beijing/Washington/Taipei relations. If they do, they will shoot themselves in the foot, and find it impossible to walk the final mile.