Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) managing director Barbara Schrage’s recent remarks expressing doubt that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and prospective presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is capable of handling cross-strait relations will not be the last time the US will be seen by some as interfering in Taiwan’s elections in the run-up to the poll on Jan. 16 next year.
Schrage told a conference in Washington on Friday that Tsai’s presentation of her cross-strait policy when she visited Washington in September 2011 — as then-DPP candidate for the 2012 presidential election — had been “disappointing.”
Shrage said that Tsai would find it difficult when she goes to the US later this year if she cannot come up with an alternative to the so-called “1992 consensus” — a formula centered on the “one China” principle that Tsai has rejected.
Although the AIT in Taipei quickly moved to say that Schrage, who retired a year ago, does not represent the US government, it did little to help alleviate the DPP’s concerns that the US might once again deal a blow to Tsai’s chances as it did when, after meeting with Tsai in 2011, a “senior US official” told the Financial Times that Tsai left Washington with doubts about her willingness and ability to maintain stable cross-strait relations.
The DPP has good reason to worry about US neutrality in the election. Schrage is just one of many former US officials who appear to favor cross-strait relations operating within a strict framework. In Schrage’s words, Tsai must present a formula that can “narrow its [the DPP’s] differences with Beijing,” — presumably a reference to the DPP’s goal of Taiwanese independence or the proposal that the future of Taiwan is to be decided by Taiwanese.
In a recent paper, former US official Alan Romberg, who is now the Stimson Center’s East Asia program director, said most observers he has spoken to in Taiwan and China are skeptical about whether there is a substitute for the “1992 consensus” that could satisfy all parties without sacrificing the DPP’s principles regarding Taiwanese sovereignty and independence.
The US government is also expected to speak out in an official capacity. As former AIT chairman Richard Bush said in September, the US government might express its views on the election — as previous US administrations have done — either through actions, public statements or a media interview of an anonymous official, such as the Financial Times report. Bush said, however, that in his view, these actions do not constitute an intervention because the US is expressing itself about the implications of Taiwan’s elections on US interests rather than declaring its preference for a particular candidate or telling Taiwanese who to vote for.
It is probably a legacy of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration that China, and seemingly the US, see Taiwan’s adherence to the “1992 consensus” — or its equivalents — as a prerequisite for effective cross-strait relations.
US experts must have noticed that the differences between the DPP and Beijing that Schrage alluded to are representative of the majority public opinion in Taiwan — a reaction to the rise of Chinese nationalism and Beijing’s assertions that China is entitled to Taiwan. Neither the “1992 consensus” nor any other framework could narrow the differences if it is to be forcibly imposed without respect for mainstream sentiment in Taiwan.
The problem boils down to this: The conflict between the US and Taiwan over differing national interests. Despite causing controversy by seeming to interfere in free elections, the US will still comment about Taiwan’s elections aiming to pursue its interests. Whether Taiwanese voters choose to support US interests, or their own, is in their own hands.
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