Taiwan’s presidential elections have always been influenced by external elements, namely China and the US. Even if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) runs on issues such as social justice, the widening gap between rich and poor and the worsening economy, cross-strait relations can never be overlooked.
Prior to the first debate, Tsai pledged to establish a special task force to engage in dialogue with China if she won the election, as well as invite the new legislative speaker and leaders of different political parties to reach a domestic consensus on dealing with China.
Before she unveiled her so-called “Ten year policy platform” in August, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office made a series of moves to force her to accept some form of “one China” framework. Taiwan Affairs Office Chairman Wang Yi (王毅) revealed the scheme to US academics during his trip to Washington in July. The office also sent the same message to Tsai’s camp via Taiwanese academics close to the pan-green camp. Nevertheless, the Chinese were upset by Tsai’s reluctance to accept the “one China” framework.
Wang later warned Tsai of the consequences of not accepting the so-called “1992 consensus.” Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) also reiterated the need for the DPP to acknowledge the “1992 consensus” to ensure future cross-strait dialogue when he met President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) special envoy Lien Chan (連戰) at the APEC summit.
Thought most pundits say Beijing will not make any concession on the “1992 consensus,” communication between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the DPP has been frequent in the past two years. Beijing has not ruled out discussing an alternative framework with Tsai.
China is well-known for its insistence on certain “frameworks.” Despite Beijing being dissatisfied with Ma’s notion of “one China with individual interpretations,” it continues to deal with the Ma administration under the “one China” framework — defined by Beijing as the People’s Republic of China.
Since Tsai has expressed her intention to set up a task force for negotiating with Beijing if she wins the election and pledged to establish a bipartisan mechanism to generate a “Taiwan consensus,” Beijing’s main concerns are how formal and how authoritative the task force would be. China would also consider the margin of Tsai’s possible electoral victory when deciding whether to open dialogue with her.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has also pressured Tsai.
During her visit to Washington in September, a Financial Times story quoted an anonymous senior US official who attended a meeting with Tsai as saying that “she left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years.”
Although the US State Department immediately disavowed the comment, it showed Washington’s concerns over Tsai.
It is therefore understandable that Tsai would introduce a mechanism for reaching her “Taiwan consensus” in a clearer way. Facing Washington’s calls to make aggressive moves toward Beijing’s insistence on adhering to the “1992 consensus,” Tsai has demonstrated a more prudent attitude and stressed the need for a -consensus-building process.
Finally, Beijing has its own leadership succession next year, so no major policy change toward Taiwan can be predicted. A victory for Tsai would no doubt complicate Beijing’s reactions. It would require patience and wisdom from Tsai and her team to face the pressures from both Beijing and Washington.
Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.
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