Cross-strait relations are likely to deteriorate if president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Chinese leaders fail to reach a deal before her inauguration on May 20, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush wrote.
“The only question will be how deep it will go,” he wrote in an essay published by the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow of foreign policy.
Beijing is publicly demanding that Tsai accept there is “one China” and that Taiwan and China are both part of “one China.”
“So far, Tsai has been willing to allude to these two principles in a positive way, but not accept them explicitly,” Bush wrote.
Beijing’s stated requirement is “something of a poison pill,” because it presents Tsai with a forced choice between her policy goal of maintaining the “status quo” and keeping the loyalty of her political base, he wrote.
“Will the two sides be able to find a mutually acceptable place on the spectrum in between clarity and ambiguity?” Bush wrote. “Judging by Beijing’s forceful insistence, probably not.”
“They probably know that Tsai is not willing to alienate her base for the sake of cross-strait relations, which suggests that perhaps their strategy is to set the bar so high that she cannot clear it,” Bush wrote. “Beijing sees no reason to make life easy for Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party — it would like her and her party to lose power as soon as possible.”
If the impasse continues, China is likely to sanction Tsai’s government, he wrote.
They might suspend more official interactions, reduce the number of Chinese tourists going to Taiwan and induce some of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners to switch to Beijing to constrain Taiwan’s international space, he wrote, adding that it is possible a “different conversation” is taking place behind the scenes.
“If it is, the content may be more pragmatic and tone more moderate,” he wrote.
However, even if such a conversation is occurring, it might not succeed and Bush said that it is China’s “deep mistrust” of Tsai’s intentions and its demand that she state them up front that is at the root of the stalemate.
He said Beijing’s demands amount to a one-sided interaction and do not seem to be a good way to facilitate cooperation.
“The other model is a step-by-step process of trust-building and confidence where good intentions are proven by a reciprocal pattern of words and deeds,” Bush wrote. “Gradualism won’t guarantee long-term harmony, but it is much more likely to succeed.”