Taiwan is in a serious predicament. The most important issue facing President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration is how to maintain Taiwan’s political identity and sovereignty.
That is, of course, unless they have given up on them.
There is a lot of confusion on this issue even though, in the new scheme of things, both Beijing and Taipei now subscribe to the “one China” principle.
While Beijing has no doubt that Taiwan belongs to China, the Ma administration would prefer to take shelter behind the vague formulation known as the “1992 consensus,” which broadly means that each side interprets the “one China” principle to suit their political needs.
In other words, Taiwan will continue to behave as a distinct political entity.
And Beijing won’t make much of an issue of it because the Ma administration is formally committed to “one China.”
In the past Beijing wasn’t prepared to accept ambiguity on this issue, insisting that any talks with Taipei must be based on an explicit recognition that Taiwan is an integral part of China.
But with a sympathetic new political order in Taiwan, Beijing may become less rigid. And the new administration in Taiwan will be keen to underplay differences with China.
Beijing might therefore seek to accommodate the Ma administration by not gratuitously chanting the mantra that Taiwan is a part of China.
Ma will also be loath to provoke China by invoking referendums that assert Taiwan’s sovereignty.
At the same time, the US is relieved that Taiwan is becoming less of an issue for them, at least for the moment.
Considering that the Ma administration is going to open up Taiwan to more trade, investment, communications, tourism, property deals and other dealings with China, one has to ask the obvious question: How will Taipei keep a tab on Beijing’s efforts to undermine its political culture and institutions?
One doesn’t have to be a genius to conclude that, with such an extensive and growing presence from these multiple channels of exchange, Beijing will be able to exercise considerable influence over, if not determine, how Taiwan goes about its business in a very short period of time.
Any divisions in the KMT between those who want to ingratiate themselves with Beijing will give China considerable leeway in playing politics within the party’s ranks.
Unlike in the past, China will not feel terribly concerned over the ambiguity of the “1992 consensus,” even if they have a tendency to remind everyone that ambiguity doesn’t mean erasure.
In any event, Taipei will tend to look the other way, satisfied with the outward appearance of the “status quo” in cross-strait and domestic affairs.
What all this means in effect is that Taiwan will end up being a de facto part of China sooner rather than later.
Beijing has a strong political lobby in the KMT and in the business community. And with new economic access points and expanding contacts, it might be able to subvert Taiwan’s painstakingly built political culture.
It is a scary scenario.
But it doesn’t have to go this far if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and other groups, which favor a sovereign identity, get their act together.
The DPP polled more than 40 percent of the vote in the last presidential election, and just over 50 percent in the poll before that. These are not small proportions of a polity.