China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 27, 2015
Executive Summary: Cross-Strait relations have significantly improved over the past seven years. But the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. Further progress is now more difficult. The Republic of China government on Taiwan will hold a presidential election next year. Cross-Strait relations will soon be in limbo. The foundation for continued cross-Strait relations must be firmed up. Progress must not be set back. This is something the Chinese people on both sides of the Strait must work for.
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Cross-Strait relations have significantly improved over the past seven years. But the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. Further progress is now more difficult. The Republic of China government on Taiwan will hold a presidential election next year. Cross-Strait relations will soon be in limbo. The foundation for continued cross-Strait relations must be firmed up. Progress must not be set back. This is something the Chinese people on both sides of the Strait must work for.
Xi Jinping came to power during the 18th National Congress. Xi did not want "cross-Strait political differences to persist, generation after generation". Xi hoped to seize the initiative and take concrete action to improve cross-Strait relations. The Ma government hoped to use the 1992 Consensus to institutionalize cross-Strait exchanges. But Ma's effort was limited. It was confined to the MAC and the Taiwan Affairs Office referring to each other by their offiical titles and holding regular meetings. Negotiations over the establishment of representative offices are still ongoing. Other initiatives have met with resistance. The Sunflower Student Movement and the nine in one election results made the Ma government more timid about cross-Strait policy. The STA and MTA have been stalled by DPP pressure. The two associations interact as usual, but progress remains limited.
The presidential campaign is heating up. Most of the focus is on the candidates. Their cross-Strait policies have attracted the most attention. Tsai Ing-wen lost the 2012 election during the final mile over cross-Strait relations. This time she did her homework. First, she pledged to "maintain the cross-Strait status quo" in order to win US support. Then she pledged to comply with the "ROC constitutional framework" in order to win Mainland support. These two pledges have passed muster with the US. But the Mainland still has doubts about her, and disbelieves her assurances.
The Mainland opposes Taiwan independence. In this regard, Tsai Ing-wen has yet to given an inch, After all, these ideals represent her roots. If she yields on these issues, even the Taiwan independence fundamentalists will forsake her. But if she refuses to yield, "the earth will move". She not only refuses to yield on Taiwan independence. She even refuses to yield on "One China". We know that because she has refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus from beginning to end. Therefore even former Defense Minister Lin Chong-pin and former Vice President Annette Lu have predicted "an avalanche of severed diplomatic relations" in the event Tsai Ing-wen is elected.
Consider Hung Hsiu-chu's cross-Strait policy. During the primaries she proposed an upgraded version of the 1992 Consensus. She hoped that the two sides could reaffirm opposition to Taiwan independence and the use of force. This was what she meant by One China, Same Interpretation, and her Cross-Strait Peace Agreement. She crossed the nomination threshold and became the KMT presidential candidate. She was then blasted by her comrades, by party members who argued that the election would be lost under such a policy. After talks with President Ma and Chairman Eric Chu, Hung Hsiu-chu agreed to revert to the 1992 Consensus and One China, Different Interpretations.
Forbidding Hung Hsiu-chu to promote her cross-Strait policy will obviously hinder progress in cross-Strait relations. Tsai Ing-wen's policies are likely to turn the clock back on cross-Strait relations. Improper handling of the South China Sea issue could even offend nationalists on the Mainland, and lead to a repeat of the 1995 Taiwan Straits crisis. Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Susan Shirk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, fear an accidental war between the two sides. They want the United States to promote an interim agreement. Taiwan will pledge not to move toward Taiwan independence. The Mainland will pledge not to use military force. This has since become the mainstream view in the US, but obviously back then the time was not ripe. A flurry of interest was followed by silence. After 2008, cross-Strait relations stabilized. Mention of an interim agreement ceased. Why has it now been set forth? The reason is obvious. The United States fears a collision between Xi Jinping and Tsai Ing-wen.
US anxiety is shared by the public on Taiwan, perhaps even more intensely. After all, Tsai Ing-wen is likely to be elected. The Sunflower Student Movement and the nine in one elections show that the public on Taiwan fears being swallowed up by the Mainland. Therefore they fear a Cross-Strait Peace Agreement will sell the into slavery. During the 2012 election campaign, President Ma set forth such a proposal, but withdrew it a mere two days later upon encountering strong public opposition. Hung Hsiu-chu also advanced this concept. But she did not even get a chance to put it into action before being lambasted by fellow party members. She has been force to temporarily abandon it.
The two sides of the Strait require a mechanism to prevent collisions. US think tanks have proposed an "interim agreement" as most appropriate. On the one hand, it would prevent the DPP from moving toward independence upon assuming power. This would reassure the Mainland. On the other hand, it would prevent the Mainland from resorting to military force, saber rattling, and frightening the public on Taiwan. If the two sides can learn to trust each other in the short term, a permanent peace agreement will eventually become possibile.
Cross-Strait relations have reached this point will great difficulty. This is the fruit of many peoples' effort on both sides of the Strait. This is the crystallization of shared wisdom. If a spur of the moment misjudgement leads to a collision, neither side will benefit. The Chinese people on both sides of the Strait will suffer. We realize that the signing of an interim agreement will be difficult. But it is something the two sides must consider. At the very least, the KMT should sign a KMT/CCP peace agreement. This would make "No Taiwan independence, no Mainland use of force" part of Hung Hsiu-chu's presidential campaign. Such an agreement might well turn out to be an "unorthodox pat hand".