The master of cross-strait relations

By Michael Hsiao 蕭新煌  / 

Fri, Mar 04, 2016 - Page 8

While it is impossible to predict exactly what president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) will say in her presidential inauguration speech, it is clear that she will not, and cannot, follow in the footsteps of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who pledged the “four noes” during his inauguration speech on May 20, 2000.

Chen pledged that — provided China did not use military force against Taiwan — his administration would not declare Taiwanese independence; change the national title from “the Republic of China” to “the Republic of Taiwan;” include the doctrine of special state-to-state relations in the Republic of China Constitution; or promote a referendum on unification or independence.

Tsai cannot continue President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) “three noes” pledge either, which he announced during his presidential election campaign in 2007. Ma pledged no discussion of unification with Beijing; no pursuit or support of de jure independence; and no use of military force to resolve the Taiwan issue.

Tsai is also unlikely to adopt the so-called “1992 consensus,” a term former Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) admitted to making up in 2000, which refers to a tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese government that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means. Tsai must avoid any suggestion that the nation is subscribing to a “one China” ideology, irrespective of which China it endorses.

Given the complexity of the issue, Tsai is likely to address the cross-strait issue in the same way she always has: by reiterating that she would maintain the “status quo” while adhering to the Constitution.

It is known that Beijing intervened in the past two presidential inaugurations, by having a US official or another third-party liaison pass on messages. This time, Beijing is attempting the same strategy — with help from members of US think tanks, pro-China media outlets and Taiwanese entrepreneurs — to put pressure on the new government.

In addition to soliciting support from a third party, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) recently called on the new Taiwanese government to find a way of showing a willingness to accept the “one China” principle endorsed by the Constitution.

So far, Beijing has tried a number of tactics in its attempt to convince the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — which will soon be ruling the nation — to accept their “one China” principle. Nevertheless, such acceptance should never happen.

A look at the cross-strait relationship over the past 16 years shows that under the “four noes” and “three noes” policies, Beijing’s attitude toward Taiwan has only become increasingly insolent and domineering, while Taiwan’s dignity has been battered, as cross-strait meetings have failed to ensure both sides are treated equally.

During Chen’s presidency, the government formally protested Beijing’s attempts to undermine Taiwanese sovereignty. However, when Ma took office, the government did not complain about Beijing’s constant ruses to deny Taiwan’s national status. This compromising position has not benefited Taiwan. On the contrary, it was seen as evidence of Taiwan’s acceptance of Beijing’s authority and it felt even more justified bullying Taiwan.

This also means that irrespective of the party in power, or the policies adopted, the way Beijing and the international community have been treating Taiwan has essentially been the same.

The Ma administration — whose eagerness to please Beijing has betrayed its pro-unification agenda — has leeched no more from China than the China-skeptic, pro-independence Chen administration. If Chen’s lack of cooperation provoked Beijing to bully Taiwan, Ma’s compliance encouraged it more so.

Beijing’s demand that Taiwan openly endorse its “one China” principle is a diversion to entrap Taiwan. Even if Taiwan agrees to such a principle, it would get nothing in return. Under such a principle, Taiwan would fall deeper under the influence of China, trapped like a bird in a cage.

Instead of assuming a passive role and focusing on appeasing Beijing with “appropriate” wording, the government should plan out an offensive strategy, which would entail expressing the Taiwanese vision for an equal and democratic cross-strait relationship, urging China to take responsibility for maintaining peace and ensuring mutually beneficial cross-strait developments.

This would be the only approach to Beijing, in line with the public will to be the master of its own fate. The previous two presidents defined cross-strait relations through negation, but their passive attitudes reinforced the unequal relationship.

Tsai should actively define the principles under which Taiwan would be willing to work with China, and the kind of “normal” relationship Taiwan hopes to establish with China.

The previous two presidents also flip-flopped, often changing their wording regarding cross-strait issues. Chen often indulged in provoking Beijing with impulsive words, whereas Ma would deliberately comply with Beijing’s demands, against the wishes of Taiwanese, only to be treated with contempt.

Hopefully, with her usual poise and prudence, Tsai will lead Taiwan to a more stable relationship with China. She should be consistent in her wording when dealing with cross-strait issues and avoid redefining or rephrasing important principles unless, after careful deliberation, she knows for sure that it could help improve Taiwan’s status and dignity.

Michael Hsiao is a researcher at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology.

Translated by Yu-an Tu