In the recent special municipality elections, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) only just managed to hold onto its control of Taipei City, Sinbei City (the name to be given to an upgraded Taipei County on Dec. 25) and Greater Taichung, while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held on to Tainan and Kaohsiung. The DPP also gained more votes than the KMT. While cross-strait issues were not a main focus of the elections, the results will definitely have an impact on the future development of cross-strait relations.
Cross-strait relations focus on three main points, the first being the [so-called] “1992 consensus” and the idea of “one China, each side with its own interpretation.”
The second point is the way Taiwan defers to China politically. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government have done so in many ways. For example, they have decreased their support of human rights and democracy in China, agreed to seek China’s permission before taking part in international organizations and not oppose China over international issues.
The third issue is China’s economic concessions toward Taiwan. Over the last two-and-a-half years, cross-strait trade has been deregulated rapidly and a major part of this has come from China making asymmetrical or unilateral concessions in favor of Taiwan. However, the relaxation in cross-strait tensions is rather superficial. Cross-strait relations still contain three major areas of conflict. The first is politics. China constantly stresses that Taiwan and China must strengthen mutual political trust and engage in negotiations on political issues, which implies China does not trust the Ma administration.
The second area is diplomacy. While Taiwan has not lost any diplomatic allies over the last two years, it has had only limited success in increasing its international presence.
The third area is military affairs. The Ma administration has demanded that China repeal laws allowing the use of military force against Taiwan and redeploy missiles aimed at Taiwan, while China has responded by saying Taiwanese independence activists continue to undermine moves toward peaceful cross-strait development.
From Beijing’s -perspective, its anti-independence and pro-unification position has had only a limited effect. In terms of anti-independence, the Ma government says it does not support Taiwanese independence, while also openly telling the world that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign nation.
In terms of China’s moves to promote unification, public support for the idea of a Taiwanese identity has increased over the last two-and-a-half years, while there has been no increase in support for unification and no decrease in support for independence. Instead, support for maintaining the “status quo” has indefinitely increased.
Returning to the effects of the special municipality elections on cross-strait relations, the Ma administration basically remains the party China wants to support in Taiwan, and it will therefore continue to promote cross-strait economic and social exchanges to help Ma get re-elected.
If China tones down its military threats — missile deployments — or does less to block Taiwan’s international presence, it is likely to demand that the Ma administration agree to specific political guarantees as a quid pro quo. However, that presents too much of a risk to Ma’s re-election chances and is therefore highly unlikely.