The Government Wants Alibaba, But Refuses to Utter Open Sesame
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 14, 2016
Executive Summary: When Ko Wen-je's approval ratings plummeted, he used the Twin Cities Forum as a stage for cross-Strait political theater. He attempted to salvage his reputation by resuming construction on the Taipei Dome. By contrast, when Tsai Ing-wen's approval ratings plummeted, placing her on the critical list, Chen Shui-bian's dark shadow loomed large. If Tsai Ing-wen is seeking a way out in cross-Straits relations, she need not emulate Chen Shui-bian or Ko Wen-je. But she must be wise enough to know the difference between the two.
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President Tsai has been in office a mere 100 days, but her approval ratings are already in the cellar. Taiwan independence forces are holding high the "core constituency" banner, demanding that the empress abdicate. In response, the Tsai government has made a number of subtle changes in its personnel appointments. It originally boasted that presidential appointments for SOEs and government shareholder corporations would be made on the basis of professional qualifications. Now however, personnel appointments are being made on the basis of “green, not expert”. How much of this is belated nepotism and political appeasement? Will appointees responsible for cross-Strait relations change government policy? That is a matter of concern.
Since the Democratic Progressive Party returned to power, it has busied itself purging the blue camp. It is too preoccupied with its vendetta to take to the streets. As a result, its cross-Strait agenda has lain dormant. It has ignored the standoff over the 1992 Consensus. It is unwilling to rub the CCP tiger the wrong way. It is unwilling to confront the slings and arrows of the Taiwan independence movement. It assumes that if it can "maintain the status quo", it will not lose points. President Tsai met with reporters recently after 100 days in office. In theory, she has racked up a number of achievements. But in cross-Strait relations, "maintaining the status quo" is the only thing that matters. In her inaugural address she insisted she was doing everything in her power to narrow the distance between the two sides and maintain stable cross-Strait relations. She clearly does not consider cross-Strait policy a matter of urgency. She is either unable or unwilling to provide a “clever response” explaining the relationship between Taiwan and the Mainland.
Meanwhile Mainland students, Mainland tourists, and milkfish sales have already exerted an economic impact. The political repercussions of the ICAO Assembly and the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting have already been felt. The cross-Strait agenda continues to buffet Taiwan head on. What is the nature of the relationship between the two sides? Tsai Ing-wen refuses to say. She insists she has "maintained the status quo". In fact, the status quo has already changed. Tsai Ing-wen must respond by uttering the magic password.
Consider the current situation. Tsai Ing-wen seems to think she does not need to say "Open Sesame". She seems to thinks that as long as she can locate Alibaba, she can open the door to the treasure trove. Either that, or Taiwan independence forces suspect that behind the door lies a bottomless pit, and that uttering "Open Sesame" will bind them hand and foot. Tsai Ing-wen hopes that Alibaba can remain silent, and that she can open the door using ventriloquism.
Taiwan independence forces are organizing a group that will demand Taiwan's membership in the United Nations. The word is that Tien Hung-mao, Chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, and James Soong, will be special envoys to the APEC leaders' meeting in Peru. Taiwan independence forces have praised the move. Beijing's only response has been that cross-Strait issues are not about individuals, they are about political principles. Taiwan independence forces have objected to Tien and Soong. For the moment the Mainland has refrained from responding. Taiwan watchers on the Mainland suspect that the entire enterprise will be a case of “bailing water with a sieve”.
Indeed, Tien Hung-mao's office still features a photograph of him standing next to Jiang Zemin. The memory of James Soong and Hu Jintao issuing a joint communique affirming the 1992 Consensus remains fresh. Tsai Ing-wen's version of the Arabian Nights forbids the uttering of "Open Sesame". Will the appointment of two men really open the door to the treasure trove?
Tien Hung-mao was blunt. He told Tsai Ying-wen that if she refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus, cross-Strait communication channels would be interrupted. Now however, he says the other side has yet to speak, therefore "there is still room for hope". Tien Hung-mao cannot possibly be that oblivious. Relations between the two sides may not hinge solely on the term "1992 Consensus". But they do hinge on its core meaning. Does Tien Hung-mao have any suggestions? Or is he merely dragging his feet, hoping that something will change? Only time will tell.
The biggest concern observers have is the Tsai government's domestic gaffes. One group after another has taken to the streets. The economy shows no improvement. Cross-Strait relations remain deadlocked. If approval ratings continue to plummet, Beijing will be reluctant to offer further concessions. Taiwan independence forces are demanding that the empress abdicate. Will Tsai Ing-wen follow in Chen Shui-bian's footsteps?
In fact, the Tsai government has used "reform" and "justice" as pretexts to expand its powers. Its flip-flops on the vice president of the Judicial Yuan nomination reveals their connection to special interests. Delays in cross-Strait personnel appointments have ended with renewed attempts to gain entry to the United Nations. This reveals their connection to Taiwan independence. Political pressure or political collusion never ends. Tsai Ing-wen's pragmatic "communicate, listen, resolve" approach, differs from Chen Shui-bian's reckless "confront, compromise, progress" approach. The pain that Chen Shui-bian's confrontational approach inflicted lingers. Externally, Washington and Beijing are co-managing the Taiwan Strait. Internally, the public remains on tenterhooks. Will objective conditions change and favor Tsai Ing-wen and Taiwan independence forces? That remains their biggest challenge.
When Ko Wen-je's approval ratings plummeted, he used the Twin Cities Forum as a stage for cross-Strait political theater. He attempted to salvage his reputation by resuming construction on the Taipei Dome. By contrast, when Tsai Ing-wen's approval ratings plummeted, placing her on the critical list, Chen Shui-bian's dark shadow loomed large. If Tsai Ing-wen is seeking a way out in cross-Straits relations, she need not emulate Chen Shui-bian or Ko Wen-je. But she must be wise enough to know the difference between the two.