Mon, Jun 04, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Stephen M. Young On Taiwan: Beijing’s latest push to turn up the heat on Taiwan

The PRC’s long-stated goal of forcing Taiwan back into its bosom has been a rhetorical part of Beijing policy for decades. But in recent months, it seems to have entered a new phase, characterized by several provocative moves designed to intimidate the island and its people.

During the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, held in October, 2017, Party General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) introduced sharper language on Taiwan than before, and suggested a timetable for reunification during his lifetime. Given that he has eliminated term limits for himself, the presumption is that he views reunification as the crowning achievement of his on-going tenure.

Toward that end, Xi has largely abandoned the gentle blandishments that were the centerpiece of Beijing policy while Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was president of Taiwan. That era of relative detente was highlighted by Mr. Xi’s widely publicized meeting with Ma in Singapore on Nov. 7, 2015. At that session, the two sides underscored their adherence to the “1992 Consensus,” an amorphous concept that emerged from a meeting a quarter of a century ago between senior Taiwan and Chinese officials concerned with cross-strait relations.

Characterized by the sweeping victory of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) first in legislative elections and then the elevation of the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to the Presidency, the political mood in Taiwan has shifted sharply. Polling in Taiwan suggests widespread unhappiness with Ma’s cross-strait initiatives and a marked reluctance to draw closer to the mainland politically. President Tsai and her ruling DPP refused to embrace the “1992 Consensus,” which Beijing set as the prerequisite to any renewed cross-strait cooperation. The once invincible Kuomintang has fallen on hard times, based on their poor showing in recent elections. The New Power Party (NPP) has emerged as a third force in Taiwan politics.

Strikingly, younger people polled in Taiwan were particularly reluctant to embrace closer political ties between the two sides. President Tsai and her Cabinet place greater emphasis on bolstering ties to the rest of Asia, particularly emphasizing their “Southern Strategy.” Cross-strait tourism has declined, as have business dealings between the two sides.

Over the past two years, Xi Jinping has engineered his rise to become the most powerful leader in China since Mao (毛澤東), and has highlighted his desire to resolve the Taiwan issue during his lifetime. Sometimes the date 2021 (the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party) has been tossed out as a dateline for resolving the Taiwan issue. There has also been talk of ensuring reunification by 2049, which would mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.

But the simple fact is that the attractiveness of reunification has, if anything, declined in Taiwan, particularly among young people. Related to this has been polling that suggests a growing sense of Taiwanese identity, with a parallel decrease in those who view themselves as Chinese. Again, this has been most notable among the younger population. There is of course no independent polling on the mainland, but it is probably safe to say most Chinese favor reunification. The media pounds this concept into the public consciousness on a regular basis.

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