On Sunday last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) delivered a lengthy address on China’s stance on Taiwan’s status at the World Peace Forum in Beijing. Ever since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was sworn in on May 20, Beijing’s attitude has been that of a silent observer, but the address signifies a shift in that attitude: Beijing has started to become impatient.
When China has been unhappy with the development of Taiwan’s political landscape, for example when former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was elected in 1996 and succeeded by Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2000, its typical tactic has been to listen to what is being said and observe what is being done without rushing into things.
When Taipei avoided the “one China” policy, Beijing just gave it the silent treatment, which it feels is also one way of applying pressure. In practical terms, it meant that China would continue to expand its economic and trade exchanges across the Taiwan Strait to deepen Taipei’s dependence on Beijing, while politically it would discontinue talks, hamper Taiwan’s diplomatic relations and intimidate it with its military power. It was using these measures to cause the cross-strait relationship to deteriorate as punishment for Taiwan’s democratically elected presidents and their administrations.
This time, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) administration only waited for two months before it began sending messages to the Taiwanese government. It did so in the hope of reminding Taipei that it should respond to Beijing’s messages.
As history shows, this means China has begun to feel a little unnerved and it is therefore worth looking into what the messages might be in Zhang’s speech.
A careful examination of Zhang’s speech shows that Beijing’s Taiwan policy still revolves around the so-called “1992 consensus,” which upholds the “one China” policy, opposition to Taiwanese independence and promotion of socio-economic integration across the Taiwan Strait. These tenets have remained unchanged for two decades and are likely to remain that way.
As for Taiwan’s status and how cross-strait relations ended up being the way they are today, Chang attributed that to the Chinese Civil War between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He then commended former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for his actions, while castigating Lee and Chen, and raising doubts over Tsai in an attempt to establish a new force in Taiwan to counteract Taiwanese independence.
Those who have followed the China issue for a long time could surely see that this is the same old trick that China has been pulling all along. However, both the international situation and the domestic situation in Taiwan have changed considerably. China either completely fails to grasp this or simply chooses to ignore it, which is rather strange. It is foreseeable that China’s maneuvering in cross-strait relations will be counterproductive to what it wants to achieve.
First, Beijing is treating the KMT and the Republic of China (ROC) as two different entities. On one hand, it uses the KMT as its tool, while on the other, it takes pride in the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and replacing the ROC as the only legitimate government in China and the only lawful representative of that nation in the international community. This is tantamount to killing the very soul of the KMT, and in effect it means that the KMT is but a political party that has lost power and is begging the CCP for charity. What does that say about Ma, the target of Zhang’s praise?
Second, Zhang said that: “Taiwanese leader Lee Teng-hui abandoned the ‘one China’ principle and proposed the ‘special state-to-state’ dictum, which resulted in cross-strait crises.”
However, the “special state-to-state” dictum was proposed in July 1999, while the missile crises orchestrated by China occurred in 1995 and 1996. That Zhang can turn cause and effect on its head only goes to show what this generation of CCP leaders are capable of when it comes to playing loosely with history and facts, not to mention politics.
Small wonder, then, that the string of lies Zhang came up with in his address, such as Chinese being the first people to develop Taiwan, is infuriating to Taiwanese. How will China be able to implement the idea that they are pinning their hopes on the people of Taiwan as was mentioned in the “open letter to Taiwanese compatriots” issued by the National People’s Congress in 1979?
Furthermore, Beijing has restricted the interpretation of the “1992 consensus” to mean that there is “one China” and that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to that China, and then warned the Democratic Progressive Party government that if it turns its back on this policy, a crisis and disaster will befall Taiwan.
The problem is that since there is no room for the ROC to have an alternate interpretation of what “one China” means, the pressure is off Tsai, who represents the entire nation, and Taiwanese stand by her. Therefore, it naturally and necessarily follows that Tsai’s government would weaken and sever the historical political, economic or cultural links between Taiwan and China. Why would Beijing go through the trouble to make this happen?
Evidently, it is about time that China started to panic. What unfolds in the South China Sea complicates the variables that Xi can use to maintain political and economic stability in China. The cross-strait relationship, as it stands at the moment, also makes it difficult for Beijing not to recognize the fact that the CCP over the past eight years has completely messed up the KMT, not to mention that Tsai, unlike Chen, has no intention of bolstering her own reputation by capitalizing on the China issue. She is a practical and rational leader.
Whether China is panicking or not is not Taiwan’s most pressing concern. From the perspective of Taiwanese interests, it is more important to know what is happening and why. The public must call on the government to act calmly and wisely in its handling of cross-strait relations. The government should focus on domestic affairs and when it is faced with the China issue, it must hold its ground confidently and patiently.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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