United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 10, 2016
Executive Summary: Beginning with the May 20 presidential inauguration and ending with the October 10 National Day celebration, Beijing has eagerly waited for Tsai Ing-wen to recognize the 1992 Consensus. But as everyone knows, Tsai Ing-wen cannot possibly bring herself to utter these two words. Her answer has been a refusal to answer. With the passing of the Double Ten National Day celebration, that much has been settled. Beijing understands this perfectly. It has not been waiting around for an answer. Instead it has issued stern warnings that "those who swim with the tide of history will survive, those who swim against it will perish”.
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Beginning with the May 20 presidential inauguration and ending with the October 10 National Day celebration, Beijing has eagerly waited for Tsai Ing-wen to recognize the 1992 Consensus. But as everyone knows, Tsai Ing-wen cannot possibly bring herself to utter these two words. Her answer has been a refusal to answer. With the passing of the Double Ten National Day celebration, that much has been settled. Beijing understands this perfectly. It has not been waiting around for an answer. Instead it has issued stern warnings that "those who swim with the tide of history will survive, those who swim against it will perish”.
Tsai Ing-wen boasted that "As long as it is conducive to cross-Strait peace and the well-being of people on both sides of the Strait, I am willing to talk about anything". She knows of course that without the 1992 Consensus, no talks are possible. Her boast was merely an empty gesture, intended to cast herself as a peacemaker.
Tsai Ing-wen refuses to talk about the 1992 Consensus. Unlike Chen Shui-bian, she is not merely counting votes. Her motive is ideological. She considers the two sides two nations unaffiliated with each other. She naturally will not accept one China.
But Tsai Ing-wen must also realize that digging in on this issue is dangerous, and could even lead to a holocaust. Beijing's patience is not without limit. If she persists in her silence, cross-Strait relations may enter a new stage. The period from May 20 to October 10 National Day was a “cold peace”. What follows will be a “cold confrontation”. Most worrisome of all, “cold confrontation" could turn into "hot confrontation".
The two sides of the Strait are not merely at loggerheads. They are invoking the "will of the people". On the eve of the National Day celebration, Tsai Ing-wen spoke to reporters from the Wall Street Journal. She invoked the “will of the people”, to prove she would not crumble under Mainland pressure. The Taiwan Affairs Office responded. It also invoked the “will of the people”. It said, "Do not underestimate the will of 1.3 billion people on the Mainland".
Her National Day speech was no different. Tsai Ing-wen yet again underscored the “will of the people”. The State Council Taiwan Affairs Office reiterated its position as well, saying "With the will of 1.3 billion Chinese people as backing, no force can stand in the way of national reunification and national rejuvenation".
Both sides have invoked the “will of the people” to intimidate the other. This is a dangerous situation. The “will of the people” may become increasingly heated in response to such invocations.
Another concern is the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office response to Tsai's National Day declarations. It referred yet again to "national reunification". The last time it did so was 10 days ago, during a brief response to Tsai's vow to "resolutely resist pressure from China [sic]". Each time it referred to "national reunification", it spoke of “historic inevitability” or the “currents of history”.
In the past, Beijing rarely used the terms "reunification" or even "one China", in order to avoid touching sensitive nerves. Instead it used the term "1992 Consensus". Its reversion to terms such as "national reunification" indicates that Beijing no longer feels the need to tiptoe around the subject. It has concluded that it cannot lay its hopes on the “people of Taiwan”, but must instead lay its hopes on the “people of [Mainland] China”.
During Ma Ying-jeou's eight year term, Beijing implemented all sorts of agreements and policies to benefit Taiwan. Yet the people of Taiwan drifted further and further away regardless. They even elected Tsai Ing-wen. When Tsai Ing-wen took office, she repeatedly invoked the "will of the people" as a bargaining chip with the Mainland, much to its frustration. This inspired the Beijing authorities, who seldom speak of the "will of the people", to join the chorus and invoke "the determination of 1.3 billion Chinese people".
Following Tsai's National Day speech, Beijing relinquished all hope that Tsai Ing-wen would affirm the 1992 Consensus. It may conduct a thorough review of its Taiwan policy, and make an historic strategic shift. Its traditional “long leash” strategy may become a "short leash" strategy. The temptation to do so will be great. The Mainland is now strong enough. It is now much less fearful. It considers Tsai's rejection of the 1992 Consensus incomprehensible.
This being the case, cross-Strait relations following Tsai Ying-wen's Double Ten declaration will deteriorate. Tsai's declaration that she was “willing to talk about anything" may have been an escape clause. But Beijing's experience with Tsai has been very poor. It has been anxious since May 20. It was wary of falling into her rhetorical traps. Her declaration that she was "willing to talk about anything" will inevitably be seen as just another lie.
As relations between the two sides continue to decline, Tsai Ying-wen will find it harder and harder to revive the economy. Her anti-Mainland demagoguery may well backfire and be redirected at herself.