Thu, Jul 12, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Cross-strait ‘status quo’ is a myth

By Jack Broome

Since the start of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration, Beijing has intensified its diplomatic assault. Over the past two-and-a-half years, four countries have switched recognition from Taiwan to China — Sao Tome and Principe in 2016, Panama last year and, this year alone, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso, both in May.

In addition, a deal between Beijing and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops continues to edge closer to completion and is seen as the last obstacle to establishing diplomatic relations.

Beijing has also reverted to blocking Taiwan’s participation in international governmental organizations such as the World Health Assembly, the International Criminal Police Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In general, Tsai’s approach to cross-strait relations has been marked by a strong sense of pragmatism. However, she has faced difficultly balancing opposing forces within her own party. The more radical elements of the DPP tend to advocate strongly for Taiwanese independence and are concerned that Tsai is not doing enough to support this goal.

For the presidential elections in 2020, it has been rumored that Premier William Lai (賴清德), who has openly called for independence on several occasions, is now the favored candidate for the party’s hardline members.

On the other hand, to attract more moderate voters during the 2016 election, Tsai promised to work to maintain the “status quo.” Upon election, Tsai even made the unprecedented move of being the first DPP president to acknowledge the “historical fact” of the so-called “1992 consensus,” albeit without accepting its validity. However, this did not stop Beijing from suspending diplomatic contact with Taiwan.

Cross-strait relations are probably at their worst since the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995, when China conducted a series of missile tests in the waters surrounding Taiwan. However, the difference now is that the relative balance of power across the Taiwan Strait has tipped dramatically in China’s favor, and China’s clout in the international community continues to grow.

Cognizant of this fact, it is understandable why Tsai is keen not to provoke Beijing. However, the idea that there exists a “status quo” to be maintained is a myth. China has been slowly chipping away at Taiwan’s international standing since 1971, when the Republic of China was expelled from the UN and the PRC was recognized as China’s sole legal representative.

Following the announcement that Burkina Faso had established diplomatic ties with the PRC, Tsai called a rare news conference and delivered a short, but strongly worded speech in which she criticized China for engaging in “checkbook diplomacy” and declared that Beijing had “crossed a bottom line for Taiwanese society.”

In her address given at an exchange program in Taipei this week, Tsai vowed to expand Taiwan’s international space and pointed to the “great support from many like-minded countries” Taiwan has received in the face of “political interference and suppression by China.”

It remains to be seen whether Tsai will follow through with her remarks. Having just passed the halfway mark of her presidency, Tsai’s domestic approval ratings have continued to decline. Major newspapers such as the United Daily News, the China Times and the Liberty Times (sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) place dissatisfaction rates at between 56 percent and 69.9 percent.

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