Following Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chen Ming-tong’s (陳明通) speech in Washington on Wednesday last week, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Liu Jieyi (劉結一) reiterated the “one China” principle, adding that saying one thing, but doing another is not acceptable, and that Beijing would continue to judge people both by what they say and what they do.
Former Mainland Affairs Council deputy minister Lin Cheng-yi (林正義), who was also in Washington, responded by saying that “saying one thing and doing another” seems to be exactly what Beijing likes to hear.
Putting aside what exactly Beijing likes, it is important to understand that the deadlock in cross-strait relations originates from China’s insistence on the making the “one China” principle the political foundation for cross-strait relations.
At the moment, China does not make any concessions, and it is intensifying its intimidation by sending ships and aircraft to patrol the waters around Taiwan and holding live-fire exercises. Because of this, it is being condemned by Washington for destroying the “status quo.”
Chen has instead revealed something that Beijing is willing to listen to.
Hopefully, he is saying one thing and doing another, rather than doing what Beijing wants, otherwise China’s principles will never change, while Taiwan’s principles will continue to bend to Beijing, which will think its threats are working.
For instance, Chen mentioned in his speech that since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office, she has “consistently handled cross-strait relations with pragmatism.”
He also said that she has “respected the historical fact of the cross-strait talks in 1992, as well as the joint acknowledgment of seeking common ground, while reserving differences to promote the peaceful and stable development of cross-strait relations. In this regard, our position has been consistent and firm.”
“Taiwan’s democratic principle and democratic will” that Chen quoted is the cornerstone of the Taiwan-US alliance of values. This foundation not only draws a bottom line for cross-strait relations, it is also the key to determining the nation’s status.
The difference between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party lies in their attitudes toward “Taiwan’s democratic principles and democratic will.”
For the public, democracy is no longer only “a way of life, taken for granted,” as Chen said, it is now part of the answer Taiwanese give to the identity-related question: “Who am I?”
Part of the reason that a Taiwan-centered government has achieved full control of the government’s executive and legislative branches is the public’s yearning for a normalized nation and the backlash against the bullying of that vision by the two Chinese parties — the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party.
The key to improving cross-strait relations that Chen mentioned in his speech is whether Beijing will renounce the use of force against Taiwan, which would be “most helpful,” as US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver said.
If China is unwilling to do this, then no matter how hard the Tsai administration tries to meet Beijing’s approach of “listening to what Taiwan says and see what it does,” it will only be surrendering to China’s threats.
Taiwan-US relations have improved with the passage of the US’ National Defense Authorization Act and the Taiwan Travel Act, the increasing rank of US officials visiting Taiwan, and Taiwan being treated as a democratic model for the Indo-Pacific region. This all sets up a beneficial environment for a Taiwan-centered government’s maintenance of the cross-strait “status quo” and march toward normalizing its status as an independent state.
The Tsai administration must of course maintain stability and a long-term perspective, but at the very least it must also keep moving forward in response to the “democratic will” and the desire for a normalized state.
If it does not take advantage of the opportunities to do so, but instead reaches for compromise and slips from the view that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign state to the idea that the Republic of China is an independent and sovereign state, Beijing might perhaps find that a bit more pleasing to the ear, but it would move Taiwanese closer to the “one China” morass rather than away from the minefield.
It is indeed valuable to defuse cross-strait relations, which could be achieved by removing any political preconditions, not standing on formality and not placing any restrictions on geographic locations for cross-strait talks, but Taiwan must not compromise its own principles and it must not sacrifice its national status strategy lest it lose more than it gains.
Since Tsai’s inauguration speech in 2016, her administration has made goodwill gesture after goodwill gesture. Beijing, on the other hand, has not budged on its basic principles, and today, two years later, it is continuing its threats, buying several of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, sending ships and aircraft to encircle Taiwan, and unilaterally initiating the M503 flight route.
The Tsai administration’s adherence to maintaining the “status quo” has therefore been placed under the microscope.
All this proves that the responsibility for relaxing cross-strait relations cannot all be placed at the feet of Tsai and her administration. Furthermore, as far as Beijing is concerned, the only goal of any cross-strait talks is to promote unification within the so-called “1992 consensus” framework.
So what is there to talk about?
Only by laying a solid foundation can there be a way forward.
The government must never forget that only when Taiwan has attained normalized national status can there be normal cross-strait relations.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming and Perry Svensson
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