The theory that a president is lame-ducked from the day he is re-elected has come to a testing point in Taiwanese politics. In light of Taiwan's unique constitutional system, a popularly elected president is often politically stronger than the premier he appoints. But when the premier himself is likely to run in the next presidential election, things may get complicated when it comes to the working relationship between the two of them.
Recent media speculation (or intentional political maneuvering) on whether there has been a split on cross-strait policy between President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has caused concern. Some argue that, in the face of Chen's declining approval rate and the alleged scandals surrounding the first family, Su might "walk his own way" by trying to distance the Cabinet from the Presidential Office in terms of China policy.
According to this argument, the notion of the "Su revisionism" is proven by the premier showing a moderate stance on cross-strait economic and trade opening, compared with Chen's relatively tighter policy direction.
While Chen characterized last month's "economic forum" sponsored by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a "fig leaf" covering up China's "malicious intentions" toward Taiwan, Su grabbed the initiative by announcing several opening measures. These included the possibility of allowing Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, more cross-strait charter flights for cargo and passengers, and increased agricultural trade. Later Su went further, announcing that the government was tweaking its cross-strait policy on exchanges between China and Matsu and Kinmen, the expansion of the so-called "small three links."
In response to the speculation of a falling out, both Chen and Su have stressed that the policy adjustment was a product of intensive coordination between the Presidential Office, the Cabinet and the National Security Council. Not only did Chen initiate the move, he pushed the Cabinet to make the announcement before former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). The main purpose of the Cabinet's decision to accelerate talks with the Chinese authorities was to make a "pre-emptive strike" and steal the thunder from the KMT-CCP forum while sending a clear message to the international community that the government has been making efforts to resume dialogue with China on economic interaction. It is Beijing that has constantly boycotted government-to-government talks and set up the "one China" principle as precondition for dialogue.
Moreover, Su emphasized the need for the government to engage in talks with Beijing on the basis of two principles: maintaining Taiwan's national identity and forging policy initiation. Those two principles are closely associated with Chen's upholding of "democracy, sovereignty, peace and parity" as the foundation for cross-strait negotiation.
In the face of China's divide and conquer strategy, it is necessary for the Chen administration to unite to remind the public what is behind Beijing's schemes. The KMT wants to ally with Beijing for political gain in its struggle with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), all under the pretense of promoting economic and trade exchanges with China.