No major changes should be expected in cross-strait relations now that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) has taken over as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, a US specialist on China told a conference in Washington on Monday.
Both Beijing and Taipei are “very comfortable” with the current state of relations, said Christopher Johnson, senior adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
However, he said it would be interesting to watch over the next four years to see if China would try to “squeeze some concessions” from the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
A former senior China analyst at the CIA, Johnson told an audience at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University that Xi — “with all his service in the coastal regions” — understood the Taiwan relationship “very, very well.”
The Chinese were familiar enough with elections in Taiwan to understand that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) might “get itself together” and regain power, Johnson said.
He said that Beijing did not want the DPP, with its leanings toward independence, back in charge.
“But the Chinese have to be thinking there is no guarantee [that the DPP will not win the next election] and perhaps will try to leverage Ma in his last few years,” Johnson said.
However, he said he did not see Beijing doing this because there were no signs that Xi did not support the existing policy.
“My sense is that we are going to see more of the current cross-strait relationship,” he said.
Johnson said he did not expect to see a different “tone” in Taiwan relations under Xi.
He added that there was always going to be a constituency in the Chinese system that argued Beijing had given the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and “a lot of economic things” to Taipei, while on the important issue of sovereignty it had received little in return.
He said this did not mean that China was going to push for a peace treaty, but that it might try hard to get a cultural agreement.
On the peace treaty issue, he said the Chinese were likely to be “realistic.”
Johnson said that Xi would continue policies that resulted in the building of “lots” of military hardware.
“There is no sign they intend a cessation of their military buildup, and in fact they are moving it forward even more dramatically,” Johnson said.
“What are they going to do with all of this stuff?” he asked.
He said there could be more moves toward cross-strait military confidence-building measures, and did not expect Beijing to move back to a strategy based on a military invasion of Taiwan.
With all of the other regional problems, particularly with Japan, Beijing wants “as much stability as they can possibly have.”
As a result of the global financial crisis and US President Barack Obama’s Asian rebalancing policies, the forces within China that were making “a lot of noise” about the permanent decline of the US have become significantly quieter.
Johnson said this was an important win for the rebalancing policy.
He said China had some initial success arguing throughout the region that while it was all about economic growth and trade, the US was all about military troublemaking.
However, the US had recognized the problem and was now putting a stronger emphasis on business, he said.