As predicted, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) much anticipated address at the Double Ten National Day celebration followed the administration’s “three noes” policy regarding cross-strait relations — no mention of the so-called “1992 consensus” or “one China,” no new definitions for the cross-strait relationship and no new suggestions for resolving the “cold peace” standoff.
Consequently, it was no surprise that many commentators have described the speech as “lacking in new ideas,” while several Chinese media outlets have criticized the address for taking Taiwan yet further down the road toward Taiwanese independence.
The “three noes” all touch on highly sensitive subjects — the issues on which Taiwan and China are least likely to reach a consensus. Considering the intricacy of these issues, the National Day celebration was neither the time nor the place for dealing with them.
First, there is nothing so urgent that it absolutely must be addressed.
While China has been putting pressure on Tsai by breaking off official and semi-official contacts since May 20 last year, labeling Tsai a promoter of “cultural Taiwanese independence” and accusing her of “desinicization” activities, Beijing’s overriding concern this year, and especially the second half of the year, has been to maintain stability ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress.
As Beijing during this time has not announced any new Taiwan policies or made any military moves on Taiwan, there is no need for Tsai to make any new suggestions or announce any new approaches to the highly delicate cross-strait situation.
Second, as long as Beijing continues to reject all cross-strait exchanges, Tsai will not initiate unilateral cross-strait policy suggestions at any public event such as the National Day celebration.
Unless she has first received a positive response from Beijing, she will refrain from doing so, as such efforts would be in vain because Beijing pours cold water on them and they invite ridicule and accusations of ineptness from the pan-blue camp.
On the other hand, Taiwanese are paying close attention to any changes to Beijing’s Taiwan policy that might be introduced after the party congress.
Although there is no direct connection between the congress and China’s cross-strait policies, there are two reasons why Beijing will take a step-by-step approach to a new Taiwan policy.
First, every past Chinese leader has had a distinctive Taiwan policy representing their time at the helm. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who wants to make a difference, will not be an exception.
His predecessors, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Jiang Zemin (江澤民), proposed their “six points” and “eight points,” but what will Xi’s cross-strait policy be?
It is becoming clear that, while Hu’s Taiwan policy emphasized peaceful cross-strait development, Xi has been focusing on integrated cross-strait development.
However, he needs a new way to summarize his approach to Taiwan, and the only uncertainty is whether he will propose his own points or find another format.
NOT JUST SLOGANS
More importantly, Xi’s policy will be more than a political vision, as past Taiwan policies were. It will have a clear and concrete policy direction.
Second, since Xi wants to make a difference, he will not allow the cold peace to continue throughout his term, as that would leave him with zero achievements and would make him go down in history as having made no contribution to cross-strait relations.
For this reason, Xi’s new Taiwan policy will not be just slogans, but rather political strategies designed to effectively end the standoff.
How can Xi achieve that?
Since May 20 last year, there has been growing speculation in China that it will invade Taiwan by 2020. However, anyone who understands Zhongnanhai’s true priorities — ensuring national and political stability — also understands that the leadership will ignore such speculations by Chinese Internet users and discard them as being too risky.
Since invasion is out of the question, Chinese think tanks concerned with cross-strait relations will be pressed to come up with ways of making a smooth transition from the cold peace to the next stage.
As Tsai has said, cross-strait relations are not a unilateral issue. To turn Xi’s Taiwan policy into an effective policy, Beijing will require Taiwanese cooperation. Unofficial and semi-official communication between the two sides will be inevitable.
Of course, Beijing still has the upper hand in cross-strait relations. For that reason, it will not easily back down on the “1992 consensus” or its “one China” principle.
Considering that, Tsai’s key challenge will be to find a way to allow Beijing to give way without losing face. Doing so will pose a great challenge for Tsai.
John Lim is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History.
Translated by Tu Yu-an
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