China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 18, 2016
Executive Summary: Tsai Ing-wen is not expected to meet Mainland expectations regarding the 1992 Consensus during her May 20 inaugural address. We hope nevertheless that president elect Tsai will put the well-being of the Taiwan public first. We hope she will conduct cross-Strait relations in accordance with the ROC constitutional framework, and do her utmost to avoid cross-Strait conflict. We hope the Mainland will also remain flexible in its attitude and delicate in its handling of future cross-Strait interactions. We hope it will keep in mind the bigger picture, and formulate new Taiwan policies beneficial to both sides.
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Tsai Ing-wen is not expected to meet Mainland expectations regarding the 1992 Consensus during her May 20 inaugural address. We hope nevertheless that president elect Tsai will put the well-being of the Taiwan public first. We hope she will conduct cross-Strait relations in accordance with the ROC constitutional framework, and do her utmost to avoid cross-Strait conflict. We hope the Mainland will also remain flexible in its attitude and delicate in its handling of future cross-Strait interactions. We hope it will keep in mind the bigger picture, and formulate new Taiwan policies beneficial to both sides.
The Mainland wants Tsai Ing-wen to reaffirm the 1992 Consensus as the foundation for cross-Strait relations. Over the past six months it has been applying pressure. Taiwan already feels the earth moving and the mountains shaking. But such pressure could be counterproductive. Everyone understands that Beijing's pressure is directed at the Tsai Ing-wen regime. But the effect will not be limited to the new government. The majority of people on Taiwan are likely to feel them. The result could be a backlash.
Tsai Ing-wen is convinced that as long as she does not incite a Taiwan independence incident, the United States, Japan and other countries will stand behind her. Washington has indeed repeatedly expressed its appreciation of Tsai Ing-wen. The US House of Representatives reaffirmed the "Taiwan Relations Act" and its cornerstone "six guarantees".
This ought to remind Beijing that when faced with Tsai regime obstinacy, applying pressure must not be its sole response. Beijing must address 23 million people on Taiwan, not just the DPP government, which will only be in office temporarily. Beijing's Taiwan policy has two parts. One is continued pressure on the DPP government. The other is continued private sector economic, trade, and cultural exchanges. This policy has not changed as a result of changes in Taiwan's political situation. This approach is correct, but may be difficult to implement. After all, the public on Taiwan is to some extent unified. Its perception of the Mainland is subject to government influence. The new government still enjoys considerable public support. If Beijing imposes sanctions on the Taiwan government, the Taiwan public may react negatively. Some members may even side with it against a common enemy. This is especially true in the international arena. Take the WHA for example. If Beijing exerts too much pressure on Taiwan, a public outcry and civil discontent could break out on Taiwan. Beijing may want merely to send the new government a message. But it might wind up hurting the feelings of the public on Taiwan. Therefore Beijing must proceed with caution.
In order to avoid a backlash, Beijing must consider the public reaction on Taiwan when dealing with the new DPP government. It cannot force Taiwan to submit solely by means of pressure and fear. Instead, it should increase public identification with the Mainland through continued peace and cooperation. Any military exercises or threats must be measured. Instead it must demonstrate greater goodwill. In particular it should offer more preferential policies to the general public and SMEs.
Beijing should attempt to win hearts and minds. While attempting to realize the “Chinese Dream”, it must consider the Taiwan issue from a global perspective. Beijing and Washington continue to clash in the South China Sea. Japan longs to pile on. The Philippines, Vietnam, and other countries have seized the opportunity to expand their claims in the South China Sea. But peace remains the main theme of the 21st century. The major powers, and the two sides of the Strait, urgently need to resolve conflicts through communication and dialogue. Beijing must not allow Washington to use the Taiwan issue to apply pressure in the South China Sea, and harm other Chinese strategic interests. Tsai Ing-wen may significantly change ROC foreign strategy. It will cozy up to the United States and Japan, and open up Southeast Asia. This will inevitably affect Mainland China's attempt to establish a new Asian order.
If cross-Strait relations change, if Tsai Ing-wen takes the same path as Chen Shui-bian and defies Mainland China, neighboring countries will gain strategic bargaining chips. This is not beneficial to the Mainland. The Mainland is making every effort to promote One Belt, One Road. The South China Sea dispute may find resolution as the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries improve their political situation. The Mainland must be committed to maintaining peace in the region, and reducing conflict in the Taiwan Strait. This will improve the political atmosphere in the entire region.
The DPP government has adopted a "creeping separatism" approach, hoping to buy time. It imagines that the longer the delay, the wider the division between the two sides. The price the Mainland will have to pay for reunification will then be too high. When the Mainland encounters internal problems, they can then declare independence. The assumption that the Mainland will encounter internal problems is part of a "Coming Collapse of China" theory bandied about for the past 20 years. It has never come to pass, and is long discredited. On the contrary, time is not on Taiwan's side. Mainland China's economy will continue to grow, and with it, its international influence. It is gradually acquiring G2 status. Together with the United States it will maintain order in East Asia. Reunification will merely be a matter of time.
Taiwan has a democratic and pluralistic society. It has an open information age society. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party does not represent the whole of Taiwan. It cannot monopolize mass communications and public discourse. Beijing must see the larger strategic picture.