Does the Tsai Government Understand the Political Signal Sent by the Hung Xi Summit?
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 6, 2016
Executive Summary: The DPP finds itself in an awkward position. Its suspicion of and opposition to the Mainland has bound the DPP government hand and foot. This makes it impossible to achieve a breakthrough in cross-Strait relations. The only way out of its dilemma is to break free of its ideological constraints and consider the actual interests of the people. It must change its cross-Strait policies. It must adopt new ideas, new rhetoric, and new attitudes when dealing with the Mainland. It must not cross the de jure Taiwan independence red line. .
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The dispute over the KMT's political path is impacting KMT CCP relations. Cross-Strait relations face the prospect of “the earth moving and the mountains shaking”. The Hung Xi Summit is being convened under these conditions. Opinions are divided within the KMT. Meanwhile, the DPP is sharpening its swords as it looks on. Fortunately Hung Hsiu-chu has been able to withstand the pressure and successfully dialogue with Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping clearly explained his thinking on Taiwan. In short, it amounts to "strategic softness, tactical toughness". Xi hopes this will stabilize currently troubled cross-Strait relations. The strategic layout is clear. The future of cross-Strait relations depends on whether the three parties on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are able to a create a scenario beneficial to all.
Pundits initially assumed that once the KMT lost power, internal disputes would arise over the party's political path. Its future path would be unclear, and the Mainland would refuse to meet with the KMT at this moment. This view clearly underestimated the mutual trust established between the KMT and the CCP, and the Mainland's determination to ensure peaceful cross-Strait relations. In fact, the Mainland has repeatedly stressed that no matter how the political situation on Taiwan might change, it will continue to promote cross-Strait exchanges and cross-Strait peace. Xi Jinping used the Hung Xi Summit to reaffirm this position. In his six-point proposal for cross-Strait relations, he reaffirmed the 1992 Consensus and opposition to Taiwan independence. The other four points concerned cross-Strait cooperation and cross-Strait public welfare. Clearly the Mainland attaches great importance to cultivating goodwill among the people of Taiwan. On the occasion of the KMT CCP Forum, the Mainland announced next year's cross-Strait youth exchange project, confirming its good intentions.
Strategic softness is one thing. The Mainland has simultaneously drawn a clearer line in the sand with regards de jure Taiwan independence. It used the Hung Xi Summit to send a clear strategic signal. It is firmly opposed to de jure independence. It utterly rejects any possibility of Taiwan independence. The DPP government refuses to accept the 1992 Consensus. On the matter of Taiwan's international status, the Mainland is adhering to its long established "one China" policy, and is not about to compromise. The Mainland's Taiwan strategy is clear. The Tsai government can no longer use “both sides have misunderstood each other” as an excuse. The ball is now in Tsai's court.
Hung Hsiu-chu, the other protagonist of the Hung Xi Summit, cannot be ignored. The KMT faces endless difficulties, in particular doubts about its future from within the party. Hung Hsiu-chu preserved the KMT-CPC cooperation platform, and deepend trust between the two parties. Hung Hsiu-chuh's efforts assured the Mainland that Taiwan would not move toward de jure independence, and that a glimmer of hope for peaceful reunification remains. She prevented the Mainland from adopting a harsher policy toward Taiwan. The preservation of the KMT CCP platform will enable the KMT to continue fighting on behalf of the people of Taiwan. Therefore the KMT plays a key role in cross-Strait relations. Mutual trust will help the KMT maintain its cross-Strait advantage.
Even more importantly, during her meeting with Xi Jinping, Hung issued a clear statement reaffirming the Kuomintang's opposition to Taiwan independence. This was the first time KMT and CCP leaders held successive talks. The theme of the KMT CCP Forum was changed from "trade and culture" to "peaceful development". It left the Ma Ying-jeou era slogan of "no reunification, no independence, and no use of force" behind in the dust. It showed that the KMT had updated its position and was prepared to deal with political issues together with the Mainland, in the hope of breaking through the cross-Strait political deadlock. Its ground-breaking value should not be underestimated. Whether agreement on political issues can be achieved depends upon a number of factors, including the support of the public and the support of the United States. The KMT is hanging by a thread. It must be prepared. The slightest misstep and it could lose the public trust. It would then be beyond redemption, relegated to permanent opposition party status.
Unfortunately the Hung Xi Summit did not address economic and trade issues. Economic and trade issues remain the key to Taiwan's survival and growth. They are also the focus of cross-Strait interaction. Hung Hsiu-chu should make a greater effort to win more practical benefits for the people of Taiwan.
For the KMT, the results of the Hung Xi Summit brought both opportunities and threats. The main problem is that the KMT is in the opposition. It lacks a majority in the legislature. It cannot turn party policy into public policy. This means the KMT CCP consensus cannot be put into practice. Moreover, the KMT is subject to DPP government obstructionism and intimidation. Although it is determined to benefit the people of Taiwan, the KMT faces an entire array of obstacles. Under the circumstances, the KMT is limited to acting as an intermediary in cross-Strait interactions. It can only assist private sector cross-Strait interactions. It cannot take the political lead. The DPP has mocked the KMT as "an affiliate of the CCP". This is yet another form of McCarthyite red baiting. But it is a provocation that the KMT must be wary of.
The DPP finds itself in an awkward position. Its suspicion of and opposition to the Mainland has bound the DPP government hand and foot. This makes it impossible to achieve a breakthrough in cross-Strait relations. The only way out of its dilemma is to break free of its ideological constraints and consider the actual interests of the people. It must change its cross-Strait policies. It must adopt new ideas, new rhetoric, and new attitudes when dealing with the Mainland. It must not cross the de jure Taiwan independence red line. Time is not on Taiwan's side. But Taiwan must nevertheless avoid immediate conflict. If Taiwan continues to provoke the Mainland over issues such as cultural Taiwan independence and the East Asian strategic situation, or even move toward de jure Taiwan independence, the two sides of the Strait risk a shooting war. The people will be uneasy. The economy will stagnate. And the nation will undergo yet another change in ruling parties.