Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - Page 12 News List

The Formosa experiment

A security forum heard that, despite concerns that a DPP win in next year’s presidential election may lead to a rise in cross-strait tensions, there was cause to be optimistic about Taiwan-China relations

By Tony Phillips  /  Contributing reporter in London

Audience members watch a presentation at the 2015 Asia-Pacific Security Forum held at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on Friday.

Photo courtesy of Jewel Lo

Although London might not appear to be the most obvious location for a forum on Taiwan and security in the Asia-Pacific region, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is home to the Centre of Taiwan Studies, one of the leading centers for Taiwan studies in the world.

Thus, an impressive lineup of academic heavyweights gathered at SOAS on Friday for the 2015 Asia-Pacific Security Forum, organized in conjunction with Taiwan’s Institute for National Policy Research (INPR) and Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs.

The day comprised a series of presentations and discussions, which provided insightful analysis and generated lively debate.

INPR executive director and former Taiwan Foundation for Democracy president Lin Wen-cheng’s (林文程) presentation “Taiwan’s General Elections and Future Cross-Strait Relations” examined likely scenarios in the aftermath of next year’s polls. Discussing the presentation, Dafydd Fell, director of the Centre for Taiwan Studies, explained that “the China factor” tended to help one or other of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) during elections.

“In 2012, I think the overall consensus was that the DPP’s weakness was its China policy,” Fell said. “It looks to me, if we look at the changing patterns of public opinion on cross-strait relations, that that may no longer be the case, particularly if you think about the post-Sunflower [movement] situation and also the way that public opinion responded, for example, to the Lien Chan (連戰) visit to China over the last week or so.”

Current DPP strength was causing concern because of fears of how China might react should DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) be elected president next year, bearing in mind the strained relations with Beijing under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

However, Lin said that because Tsai’s policy was to maintain the status quo, a dramatic increase in cross-strait tensions was not expected.

COUNTERINTUITIVE

Following a roundtable discussion, Steve Tsang (曾銳生), head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, said that a victory for KMT presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) could, somewhat counterintuitively, destabilize Taiwan-China relations.

Having pushed President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration as hard as it could for concessions, Tsang said China might be tempted to re-focus on Taiwan should the KMT win, pressing for yet more advantages in the belief that Hung might be even more accommodating than Ma.

In his concluding remarks, former minister of foreign affairs Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂), now INPR president and board chairman, said that China would probably no longer see Taiwan as unfinished business from the Chinese Civil War but as a strategic issue because of China/US rivalry, Japanese assertiveness and regional complexity.

Despite Tsang saying that there was no balance of power in the Taiwan Strait, with Taipei only able to play for time in the event of a Chinese attack until the US fleet arrived from across the Pacific, Tien said that Taiwan was not in as perilous a position as it might appear.

TSAI ON THE MOVE

Although the prospect of a DPP victory next year had raised fears of increased cross-strait tensions, Tien pointed out the differences between Tsai and Chen and highlighted her recent trip to the US.

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