A specialist in US-Taiwan relations suggested Friday that Washington might try to help the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) recover from its crushing defeat in Nov. 29’s nine-in-one elections.
Steven Goldstein, a professor of government at Smith College whose current research focuses on cross-strait relations, said it was very much in the US’ interest for cross-strait relations to continue developing peacefully.
He told a conference on “decoding” Taiwan’s election results — organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — that Taiwan’s most important contribution to the US’ “pivot” toward Asia was to keep the cross-strait environment quiet.
And the best way to do that is to sustain the momentum in cross-strait ties launched by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
“The question is whether there will be American attempts to bolster Ma, strengthening his position and that of the Chinese Nationalist Party,” he said.
Goldstein said that there had been no new announcements of arms sales for a number of years.
Such sales might help the KMT win the 2016 presidential election and referring directly to possible arms sales Goldstein said: “Could that possibly happen?”
He said the election results could be read as a mandate on Ma’s cross-strait policies and wondered if they were a harbinger of political realignment.
“Is this a preview of what will happen in the 2016 presidential election?” he said.
Goldstein said the results must have rattled China, where leaders now understand that their campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese “might not be doing as well as they thought.”
As a result, he said there would have to be a “great effort” by China to contact and understand the victorious Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The DPP and China hold “two entirely irreconcilable” positions on cross-strait relations and this has left the US with “a certain bit of concern.”
Goldstein said there had also been concern about DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) willingness to “make the kinds of gestures that might have to be made to reach some kind of accommodation with the mainland [China] that would make a continuation of the momentum from the Ma period possible.”
Alan Romberg, director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center, said that in the aftermath of the recent elections Beijing would continue its policy of peaceful cross-strait development. He said Beijing would continue to stress economic relations and give benefits to the people of Taiwan “in continuing efforts to win hearts and minds.”
Romberg said China would make it clear that if a DPP government took office in 2016 and did not embrace some form of “one China” policy, there would be consequences.
He said the election result was a reaction to “perceived poor KMT governance” and a perception that the party had not lived up to expectations. Chinese officials have been “engaging” DPP leaders for quite some time, Romberg said, and these conversations and contacts would now grow in intensity.
He said that Beijing would not compromise on the “one China” principle and that from the its perspective the KMT was the “better option.”
Goldstein said that given the last presidential election, it was “natural” for the US to have concerns about Tsai’s ability to manage cross-strait relations.
The DPP has learned lessons from the 2010 election, but it would still be difficult for them to form a cross-strait policy that would be acceptable to China.
“It’s as much a responsibility of the mainland [China] as it is of the DPP,” he said.
Romberg said that while the US should not favor one party over the other, “if US interests are going to be affected, the US will not hesitate to talk about its interests.”
He said that if cross-strait stability seemed to be at stake “then the US may well express itself.”
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