Sun, May 29, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Parsing Tsai’s cross-strait policy

By Fan Shih-ping 范世平

On Friday last week, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) finally gave her long-awaited and highly anticipated inaugural address. All ears were on what she would say about cross-strait policies. For many, that was to be the most important part of her address. In the end, it did not even account for 10 percent of her speech.

Apparently, Tsai knew perfectly well that what the Taiwanese public cares most about are domestic affairs and economy, not China. Notably, she spent a great deal of time talking about the nation’s youth, apparently because she knew that the recent resounding election victories of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) were attributable in great part to the support of Taiwanese youth.

Tsai is a completely different president from her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was preoccupied with the so-called “1992 consensus.” Even on the very last day of his term, Ma still could not help mentioning his achievements in cross-strait relations when he greeted foreign guests.

Beijing was expecting a mention of the “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle, as well as a rebuttal of the non-state-to-state nature of the cross-strait relationship. Tsai did mention these things, but she was evasive in her phrasing.

In an interview by the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) in January, Tsai mentioned “four already existing political foundations” to facilitate cross-strait relations, which she mentioned again in her inaugural address.

She began by acknowledging that it is a historical fact that both sides had a meeting in 1992, during which they reached a common understanding that both sides were attempting to find commonalities amid differences.

“A historical fact” was Tsai’s first treatment of the “1992 consensus,” though she consigned it firmly to the past tense, entirely avoiding the use of the present continuous as the Ma administration had done.

Tsai mentioned the “1992 historical fact” twice in her speech as a response to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) comment during a joint meeting of the Chinese National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March that the “1992 consensus” was a historical fact.

The second “political foundation” for cross-strait relations is the constitutional system of the Republic of China (ROC), a concept that Tsai proposed for the first time in June last year at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

The ROC Constitution is considered a constitution embodying the “one China” principle. Although the Constitution itself plays a part in the constitutional system, the Additional Articles, constitutional interpretations by the Council of Grand Justices, constitutional conventions and so on are also integral parts of the constitutional system. The system is more extensive, so the “one China” principle does not stand out, which is probably why rumor has it that Beijing wished Tsai could base her policies on the Constitution itself, in that it is clearer on the “one China” principle.

As it turned out, Tsai did say that she would handle cross-strait affairs in accordance with the ROC Constitution. This could be interpreted as a friendly overture to Beijing.

In addition, Tsai also mentioned the draft act on an oversight mechanism for cross-strait agreements, which defined the cross-strait relationship as “one nation, two districts.” The “one nation” is the ROC, and the “two districts” are Taiwan and China. This is Tsai’s answer to China’s call for the recognition of the non-state-to-state nature of the cross-strait relationship and that both Taiwan and China are part of one China.

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