Cross-strait relations will once again be a key issue in the January presidential election to be contested by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
Although Taiwanese voters have a three-year record by which to judge Ma’s cross-strait policies, the kind of cross-strait policy — or as the DPP calls it, “China policy” — Tsai might pursue as president is not clear. Thus far, Tsai has spoken only in generalities and while such generalities preserve flexibility for the future, they leave Beijing, Washington and Taiwanese voters uncertain about what the future might hold on a potentially explosive issue. This uncertainty creates two contrasting pictures of Tsai’s future policies — one moderate and hopeful, the other fundamentally troubling.
Naturally, the pragmatic, moderate image is the one Tsai has sought to convey in her few public statements. She has said that Taipei and Beijing share a responsibility for maintaining peace, implying that she recognizes Taipei needs to avoid taking action that could lead to confrontation or conflict with Beijing. Tsai has also said that there should be continuity in relations across the strait, implying that she would generally seek to modify rather than scrap the agreements already negotiated. Furthermore, in her bureaucratic career and management of the DPP, Tsai has shown herself to be a pragmatic consensus-builder. This moderate course is the one the international community hopes Tsai will pursue.
The alternative picture of Tsai is based in part on her record. In 1999, Tsai was an adviser to former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) when he crafted his doctrine of cross-strait relations as “state-to-state” in nature. In the first years of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency, Tsai served as chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council, where she consistently rejected the [so-called] “1992 consensus.” As DPP chairperson, Tsai has continued to reject the 1992 consensus and assert that Taiwan must not fall into the “one China” trap.
She has also said that policy would be based on the DPP’s 1999 “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future.” Although that resolution contains some moderate elements, it rejects the “one China” concept and conceives of cross-strait relations as state-to-state relations.
At this point, Beijing officials tend to view Tsai in this latter light. When asked about her policy statements, the Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman replied that adopting a “separate countries on each side of the Strait, Taiwan Independence separatist position, however cleverly packaged,” would have consequences.
Last month, Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Wang Yi (王毅) said that if such a position were adopted, it would be hard to imagine how dialogue could be maintained, how the two sides could build mutual trust or how they could continue to cooperate. Unfortunately, rather than taking these comments seriously, the DPP spokesman dismissed them.
If Tsai does intend to pursue pragmatic policies, it is important for her to make this clear now. Answers to three questions would help provide clarity.
First, on what political basis does Tsai propose to continue dialogue with Beijing? She talks about the possibility of modifying existing cross-strait agreements, indicating a need to negotiate with Beijing. If the 1992 consensus is rejected, on what political basis acceptable to both Taipei and Beijing does she expect to be able to continue dialogue? Tsai has avoided this question.