China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 6, 2016
Executive Summary: We believe Beijing still means Taiwan well. We call on Tsai and the new government to treat the well-being of people on both sides of the Strait as their starting point. We call on them to demonstrate wisdom and creativity, and find a way to maintain good cross-Strait public and private sector relations. As long as the two sides affirm that cross-Strait relations are not state to state relations, then we may continue to advance along the path of peace.
Tsai Ing-wen's May 20 inaugural speech is unlikely to include anything new. Beijing and Washington have each expressed concerns. Susan Thornton is Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the US State Department. Thornton supports Tsai Ing-wen's position, but also hopes that Tsai has a clear vision for cross-Strait relations. Clearly Washington perceives the danger behind Tsai Ing-wen's conservative mindset. If Tsai fails to respond to Beijing's core concerns, she could cause trouble for Washington.
Beijing is even more blunt. A People's Daily editorial recently passed a message on to Taipei regarding official policy toward Taiwan. It reaffirmed the 1992 Consensus as the political foundation for cross-Strait exchanges, and issued the incoming government a warning. If it repudiates this political foundation, or rejects its core meaning, then Tsai Ing-wen's "status quo" will be viewed as empty rhetoric. Cross-Strait trust will be shattered, and official consultation mechanisms will collapse. Beijing drew a line in the sand. It expressed the hope that Tsai Ing-wen would come around. It indirectly responded to past statements issued by the DPP. It stressed that the 1992 Consensus was endorsed by the two sides' governments. It is not the intellectual property of any one political party. The Mainland has abided by the 1992 Consensus, and demonstrated goodwill toward Taiwan. The Mainland will continue to conduct cross-Strait consultations and negotiations, on this basis, for the benefit of people on both sides.
Beijing and Washington have each offered Tsai Ing-wen both a carrot and a stick. In particular, in addition to sticking to principles, Beijing has also expressed hope that Tsai will see reason. Beijing genuinely desires peaceful cross-Strait relations. The key lies in Tsai's ability to respond to Beijing's core concern – the two sides' political foundation. On cross-Strait issues, the DPP may indeed have more room to maneuver than the KMT. The Mainland may indeed be prepared to make concessions. , Tsai Ing-wen has refused to explicitly recognize the 1992 Consensus. But if she clearly acknowledges its existence and its spirit, especially if she acknowledges that the two sides discussed the one China principle, she may be able to extricate herself from her fix. Can Tsai Ing-wen issue an appropriate statement regarding the foundation for cross-Strait political relations? Can she affirm that it is based on the constitutional framework of the Republic of China? If she can, Beijing may be willing to maintain official cross-Strait relations.
The key is that Tsai Ing-wen must answer the question, “What is the nature of the cross-Strait relationship?" Tsai says she is committed to “maintaining the status quo”. This avoids provocation, but fails to respond to the underlying question. Naturally it fails to satisfy Beijing. Even if Beijing were to grudgingly accept, the issue would resurface during future contacts. Consider cross-Strait relations under Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, and Ma Ying-jeou. If this matter is not dealt with appropriately, Beijing must respond officially. There will be no room for ambiguity. Tsai Ing-wen must act now, and not wait until a crisis erupts between the two sides before dealing with the matter.
Tsai Ing-wen is under pressure from Taiwan independence fundamentalists within her own party. If she tampers with the DPP's holy of holies, she puts herself at great risk. Major players within the party are speaking out on her behalf, in the hope that she can break through old barriers. Under the circumstances, the best thing Tsai can do, is to acknowledge that the two sides belong to the same culture and have the same blood coursing through their veins. From the perspective of geography and history, the two sides belong to the same entity. On this basis, she can address the two sides' current political status. She can ask Beijing to respect the reality of divided rule. This will enable her to respond to internal pressure, substantively maintain the Taiwan Region's autonomy, and prevent the Taiwan Region from being downgraded politically by the Mainland. This is precisely the spirit of the 1992 Consensus. Taipei does not accept Beijing's claim of sovereignty. Nor does it define Taiwan as something outside the framework of China. This imposes no limits on us. Beijing may not accept the phrase "different interpretations", but it must acknowledge its reality. Taipei will also acquire more space on the international stage.
Tsai Ing-wen must not underestimate the importance of a shared political foundation for cross-Strait relations. Only a shared political foundation between Taiwan and the Mainland enables continued economic, trade, and cultural exchanges. Only then can the two sides establish a permanent social foundation for peace. Only cross-Strait private sector exchanges, without political interference from governments, will enable people on both sides of the Strait to think of each other as family. Only then will confrontation and hostility gradually fade. Within Taiwan, when hostility between the two sides gradually diminishes, internal opposition to improved cross-Strait relations will also be marginalized. It will no longer constitute an obstacle to the new government's policy, and undoubtedly benefit Tsai Ing-wen as well.
We believe Beijing still means Taiwan well. We call on Tsai and the new government to treat the well-being of people on both sides of the Strait as their starting point. We call on them to demonstrate wisdom and creativity, and find a way to maintain good cross-Strait public and private sector relations. As long as the two sides affirm that cross-Strait relations are not state to state relations, then we may continue to advance along the path of peace.