China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 2, 2016
Executive Summary: The new government cannot afford to adopt a passive attitude toward the cross-Strait impasse. It must not assume that the Mainland will be afraid to offend public opinion on Taiwan. People on the Mainland have an increasingly negative perception of Taiwan. The new government must consider public opinion on the Mainland when dealing with cross-Strait disputes. It cannot afford to listen only to its own press releases. The new government must mollify public opinion on the Mainland. It must avoid an official backlash. These are matters of the utmost urgency, and cannot be avoided.
May 20 is fast approaching. It is virtually certain Tsai Ing-wen will not explicitly recognize the 1992 Consensus. It is even more certain she will not explicitly recognize the one China principle. The Mainland is expected to adopt tough countermeasures.
Mainland pressure on Taiwan during cross-Strait disputes has become the norm. After May 20 it will become fixed policy. The Kenyan incident set the tone. The Mainland directed the course of events. Malaysia has extradited 32 Taiwanese suspects to the Mainland. In the past, suspects were treated with kid gloves. The optics of them being led away to the Mainland offered a powerful contrast. This time protests on Taiwan had virtually no impact. All Taiwan can do now is cooperate with the Mainland's prosecution.
This leaves Taiwan with very few bargaining chips. Future cross-Strait interaction may be limited to crisis management. There may be little opportunity for Taiwan to take the initiative. The DPP lacks experience interacting with the Mainland. It has not established mutual trust. Future official interaction will be quite different from the KMT era. When problems arise, it will not be so easy to deal with them in a timely manner. Minor problems may easily become major problems, further undermining normal cross-Strait relations.
Even more worrisome is the DPP's long-standing anti-China ideology, which pays scant attention to the feelings of people on the Mainland. When the public on the Mainland reacts with anger, the DPP often derides them as "thin-skinned and brainwashed by officialdom". Little do they realize that in recent years cross-Strait relations is no longer merely a matter of reunification vs. independence. It has become a matter of identity and feelings. People on the Mainland have an increasingly negative impression of Taiwan. Taiwan scam artists for example, have provoked intense dissatisfaction on the Mainland. Anti-Mainland political rhetoric and anti-Mainland political agitation on Taiwan have left people on the Mainland with a negative perception of Taiwan. If these issues are not addressed, Taiwan may find it difficult to obtain future concessions from the Mainland. If the new government's Mainland policy provokes a public backlash on the Mainland, Mainland officials will be forced to apply greater pressure on Taiwan, albeit in a low keyed fashion.
When Mainland officials apply pressure to Taiwan, they must anticipate a backlash. Anything that negatively impacts the general public may be counterproductive. They must exercise discretion. Cross-Strait private sector interactions are increasingly close. If the Mainland severs official relations with the new government, or if the communication process is too constrained, the result could be increased private sector confrontation on concrete issues. If concrete issues in non-governmental exchanges and trade cannot be resolved, compatriots on both sides will be the first to suffer. That will not improve the people on Taiwan's impression of the Mainland.
People on the Mainland may also react vehemently to cross-Strait hostility. This would reduce the Mainland authorities' flexibility in dealing with issues, and would not be conducive to satisfactory solutions.
The Mainland should be concerned. In recent years, more and more people on Taiwan are leaning toward independence, or toward maintaining the status quo and eventual independence. In part this is the result of deliberate manipulation by political demagogues. But in part this is the result of counterproductive actions by the Mainland, by its refusal to recognize the ROC and the ROC's need for international breathing space and dignity. Taiwan may not have enough formal allies to make excessive demands upon the Mainland. The Mainland has its own national interests and foreign policy needs. But if it applies excessive pressure on non-governmental organizations concerned only with personal safety and public welfare, the result could be public resentment. The Mainland wants the new government to honor the 1992 Consensus. But those with an agenda can easily characterize Mainland pressure as directed against everyone, and rally the public to "resist the common enemy". This would paradoxically help the DPP wriggle out of its dilemma. Recently the Mainland and Gambia resumed diplomatic relations. Delegates from Taiwan were ejected from the Belgian steel conference. But the public on Taiwan did not blame Tsai Ing-wen for not recognizing the 1992 Consensus. Tsai Ing-wen purports to act on behalf of public opinion. That of course is mere demagoguery. Nevertheless it has a tangible impact on public support.
The Mainland must determine whether its pressure will be perceived as reasonable, and whether it impacts people's well-being. The Malaysian extradition of Taiwanese scam artists to the Mainland shows that pressure on Taiwan must be perceived as reasonable. Of course, the best approach would be a forward looking policy that directly benefits SMEs, especially the lower middle class in central and southern Taiwan. Such a policy would allow people on Taiwan to realize that Mainland goodwill toward the public did not change as a result of ruling party change.
According to the Mainland's Anti-Secession Law, the government has the authority to lash out against Taiwan independence. But it must be careful when punishing those with "blue skin and green bones", or investigating Taiwan businessmen and forcing them to declare their political stance. We understand Mainland hostility toward Taiwan independence. But the fight against Taiwan independence must respect the rule of law. It must clearly define the scope of Taiwan independence. It must avoid Huang An type incidents that harm innocents.
The new government cannot afford to adopt a passive attitude toward the cross-Strait impasse. It must not assume that the Mainland will be afraid to offend public opinion on Taiwan. People on the Mainland have an increasingly negative perception of Taiwan. The new government must consider public opinion on the Mainland when dealing with cross-Strait disputes. It cannot afford to listen only to its own press releases. The new government must mollify public opinion on the Mainland. It must avoid an official backlash. These are matters of the utmost urgency, and cannot be avoided.