Jiang visits Washington with mixed messages

By Gerrit van der Wees  / 

Thu, Mar 24, 2016 - Page 8

Last week, former premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) went to Washington. It would have been big news if he had met with officials of the US administration or members of Congress, but instead he gave a talk at the inaugural session of the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a new pro-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) think tank in Washington.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with having diverse views represented in Washington. The problem with Jiang’s remarks was that he played into Beijing’s hands.

He started out by saying that this year is important because the US will elect a new president, and Taiwan just elected its first female president. He then gave a detailed outline of the evolution of president-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) position on cross-strait relations over the past decade and a half.

He also outlined four opportunities and four challenges for Taiwan. So far so good.

The problems began when Jiang started to describe Beijing’s position — its insistence on the so-called “1992 consensus” and the “one China” principle — which he described as “resolute,” “firm” and “principled.”

Jiang’s view is one held by so many analysts attempting to “decode” what Beijing wants and whose basic assumption is — presumably because Taiwan is small and China is big — that Beijing’s position is immovable, that we cannot expect it to change and that therefore the onus is on Taiwan to be accommodating.

While it is obvious that increasing tensions across the Taiwan Strait is possible, we need to be crystal clear about the root cause of this tension.

Beijing’s insistence on an outdated “one China” framework is premised on the eventual incorporation of Taiwan. This premise is simply not tenable anymore — if it ever was — as Taiwan has evolved into a free and vibrant democracy that does not want to be subdued by a communist regime.

Jiang aggravated his error by painting three possible scenarios: first, a “continuing stability” scenario in which Tsai accepts the “one China” and “1992 consensus” formulations.

The second scenario would be “escalating tension.” If Tsai does not accept the “one China” principle in her inauguration speech, she would concede after “punitive action” taken by Beijing.

Jiang’s third scenario is one of major conflict if Tsai declines to acknowledge the “one China” and “1992 consensus” policies.

The fundamental problem with this type of reasoning is that it does present Beijing’s response as an acceptable and/or understandable reaction to something Taiwan might do. This is simply not the case.

It is essential that the burden is put on Beijing to behave in a reasonable and rational way. Taiwan is not threatening China — unlike the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime from the 1950s to the mid 1970s that preached “recovery of the mainland [China].”

Taiwan in its current configuration wants to live in peace with all its neighbors, including China. It would therefore be helpful if Beijing accepts Taiwan as a friendly neighbor and moves toward normalization of relations.

Clinging to concepts of the past, such as the “one China” or “1992 consensus” concepts — by either Beijing or by the few remaining pro-unification supporters in Taiwan — would lead to increasing tension with a democratic Taiwan, that has achieved its freedom and is ready to contribute to the international community.

Jiang should have made it clear that the ball is in Beijing’s court and that the People’s Republic of China needs to act like a responsible stakeholder if it wants to contribute to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Gerrit van der Wees was the editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication in Washington.