Beijing could try to punish Taiwan if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wins the election on Saturday, a US academic told a conference in Washington.
Chinese policy toward Taiwan is personally associated with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and a Tsai victory would be seen as a setback for him, Phil Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, told the Heritage Foundation conference.
This situation could lead others in Beijing to push for tougher policies, he said.
“There are various things the mainland could do to punish Taiwan and the question is how will they use their leverage and try to shape the relationship,” Saunders said, adding that Beijing had “economic, political and diplomatic” leverage over Taiwan.
China might want to “put some hurt” on Taiwan, he said.
In the case of a Tsai victory, he said, there would be efforts to negotiate terms for a new relationship and the US would work to “deter either side from taking military steps or provocative steps.”
Saunders said Washington would leave Beijing and Taipei alone to work out the details of a new arrangement.
However, the US would counsel Beijing to “think carefully about putting everything at risk” and urge them to give Tsai time to establish an administration, get into office and work things through, he said.
The US would try to persuade Beijing not to do “anything radical that destabilizes the situation,” Saunders said.
He said that if Tsai won the election, he did not think she would take any “adverse actions” to upset the Chinese.
Much would depend on how the time between the election results and the inauguration was used to work out the terms of a new cross-strait relationship, Saunders said.
He did not think that Beijing would declare war or immediately start military intimidation.
They would try to work out a “mutually acceptable framework” on which to base future relations, he said.
Dean Cheng (成斌), a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, recalled that when Tsai visited Washington last year, a senior official with the administration of US President Barack Obama gave a controversial interview to the Financial Times.
“She left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years,” said the unnamed official, who insiders have said was probably National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
“Our administration’s Financial Times interview regarding Tsai Ing-wen unfortunately creates a situation where Tsai has much less incentive to be conciliatory to the US,” Cheng said.
“This does not mean that if she gets elected she will declare independence the next day, but it does weaken any American opportunities to have influence over DPP policies, simply because the administration seems to have come across with a ‘we don’t like you,’” he said. “And that matters.”
Cheng said there were other “regional developments” that could factor in Taiwan’s election results.
In particular, he mentioned the “interesting Japanese decision” to allow the export of military equipment “and how that will be interpreted in Beijing and Tokyo with regards to Taiwan.”
“How we interact with a DPP government regarding arms sales is absolutely going to be a focal point for Beijing,” he said.