The US has “deep and enduring interests” in preserving stability across the Taiwan Strait and has an important role to play in shaping the policies of both Beijing and Taipei, a new analytical article said on Thursday.
If the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returns to power following next year’s presidential elections, Washington can help prod both sides, it says.
Written by Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser for Asia Bonnie Glaser and research associate Jacqueline Vitello, the article was published in National Interest.
It says the US can encourage both sides to find a modus vivendi that ensures cross-strait communication channels remain open and pragmatic cooperation continues.
US efforts need to be stepped up now, concludes the article, before the positions of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) “harden further.”
Glaser and Vitello believe it is “increasingly likely” that the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) would win the presidential election.
“Xi Jinping’s reaction to a Tsai Ing-wen victory should not be underestimated,” they said.
According to Glaser and Vitello, in addition to Xi’s consistently tough remarks about Taiwan, there have been other signals of his “uncompromising stance” toward Taiwan.
“Since assuming power, Xi Jinping’s approach to Taiwan has been consistently hardline and at times, remarkably out of step with the sentiments of the majority of Taiwanese,” they said.
The writers add that Xi’s target audience may not be Taiwan, but Beijing.
“He may be determined to not appear weak on Taiwan lest it undermine his power and ability to implement his larger agenda of achieving the ‘Chinese Dream,’” they say.
Glaser and Vitello say that alternatively Xi may not understand Taiwan as well as many observers say he does.
“Chinese scholars say that Xi does not seek out the advice of experts or officials in the Taiwan Affairs Office in developing policy toward Taiwan — rather he relies on his own counsel,” they said.
A third possibility, according to Glaser and Vitello, is that Xi has concluded it is time to put greater pressure on Taiwan and “draw a line in the sand” to prevent cross-strait ties from regressing and potentially to compel unification if a new Taiwanese president crosses Beijing’s red line.
“Whatever the reason, there is a significant possibility that if Tsai Ing-wen is elected president of Taiwan next January, a cross-strait crisis could ensue,” they said.
The writers said this may occur even though Tsai has made a concerted effort to articulate a strategy aimed at maintaining the cross-strait “status quo.”
“All of her statements point to the fact that she is unlikely to pursue provocative policies such as [former president] Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) attempted to carry out when he was in power,” they said.
Glaser and Vitello say that nevertheless, China “deeply distrusts” Tsai.
“The article is about Xi Jinping and how he may react to Tsai Ing-wen’s election, due in part to domestic considerations,” Glaser told the Taipei Times.
“If cross-Strait tensions rise, I believe it will be primarily a result of Chinese overreaction, not Tsai’s policies,” she added.
DPP Washington liaison Michael Fonte said: “Tsai Ing-wen will not be the cause of any crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Whether Xi Jinping will see fit to create a crisis remains to be seen.”
Responsibility for maintaining a stable and cooperative cross-strait relationship must be shouldered by both Beijing and Taipei, Glaser and Vitello said.
“If Tsai is elected Taiwan’s next president, the two sides will need to agree on a new formulation that provides a basis for managing cross-Strait ties,” they say.
“The interests of both Taiwan and Mainland China will be best served by the adoption of a pragmatic approach that takes into account prevailing realities,” Glaser and Vitello add. “Outright rejection by Tsai of the framework – including the 1992 consensus — that has enabled more than seven years of relatively low tensions and cooperation across the Strait would be damaging and counterproductive.”
“Chinese unwillingness to find a compromise with the DPP that preserves cross-Strait stability while at the same time protecting Beijing’s bottom line of avoiding the risk of Taiwan independence would be similarly destructive and unwise,” they said.
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