Next year’s presidential election is heating up — not by the competition between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — but by external forces.
Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping(習近平) stressed at the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing that the so-called “1992 consensus” is irreplaceable in establishing mutual trust, opening dialogue and negotiations, and improving cross-strait relations. Xi warned that if such a common political basis was challenged, “it would shake the foundation of cross-strait relations.”
It is obvious that Xi was pointing his finger at DPP Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for not accepting the “1992 consensus,” and also hoping that the US would pressure Tsai to make concessions.
A key characteristic of Chinese negotiation behavior is the distinctive use of language in the political process and it is expressed in a number of ways. For example, Xi has redefined the “1992 consensus” as “both Taiwan and the Mainland belong to one China.” This rules out the KMT’s own version of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.”
Moreover, Chinese negotiators often try to create a situation in which they can force their opponents to make concessions. Xi has narrowed the definition of the “1992 consensus,” hoping to frame future cross-strait talks within a “one China” framework. If Tsai became president then she would have to pay a high political price were she to break away from it.
Also, the typical Chinese way of maneuvering negotiations starts with a deep-rooted culture of “face-saving.” In this regard, Xi will have to keep Taiwan under his control while dealing with tremendous challenges at home. Appealing to nationalism and anti-Taiwan independence is the most convenient political tool to distract public attention.
Most importantly, Chinese negotiators often use a “take it or leave it” strategy. Given China’s rising global influence and Xi’s assertive personality, his description of potential volatility and instability in cross-strait relations under a future DPP government is aimed at forcing Washington to interfere in Taiwanese elections — as it did in 2012.
Finally, when Beijing negotiators wish to convey the impression that they are impervious to pressure or unwilling to compromise on some issue, they will assert — often not very convincingly — that they do not particularly care about a given situation or about attaining a certain objective. This rationale formed the tenets of Xi’s insistence that Tsai is solely responsible for the potential escalation of tension across the Taiwan Strait.
Should Taiwan play up to Xi’s scheming? Should democratic elections be dictated by an authoritarian China? Would Taiwanese voters be intimidated by such a repeated “threat card?” And how should Tsai and the DPP come up with pragmatic steps to convince Taiwanese voters and international allies that they can manage cross-strait relations?
To prove it can walk the walk, not just talk the talk, the DPP has taken a series of concrete steps to address cross-strait relations.
First, the China Affairs Committee — the DPP’s highest China policy decisionmaking mechanism — has reached a consensus to further encourage the 13 cities and counties that the party governs to step up cross-strait exchanges. Some of them have established task forces to address this.
Second, to institutionalize cross-strait interactions, the DPP has decided to push forward the legislation of a bill supervising cross-strait negotiations. The effort is a direct response to the request raised by the Sunflower movement last spring.
These moves show the DPP is confident in engaging China were it to return to power, and it will take into account domestic public opinion and international expectations.
Regarding cross-strait relations. — especially in the wake of the Sunflower movement — the public is demanding greater transparency, checks and balances, national security and social justice. The DPP has adopted an action-oriented, principle-based approach to address public concerns. The DPP’s 13 newly elected and re-elected mayors and governments are the driving force behind Tsai’s pragmatism in normalizing cross-strait relations.
The DPP should utilize a strong mandate to engage in candid, patient and responsible dialogues with the wider international community, particularly Washington. These are the strategic reassurances that Tsai can offer to the administration of US President Barack Obama when she visits the US.
Beijing must understand that the status of a “great power” is not illustrated by displays of military muscle or threats against smaller countries. China must accept its responsibilities from the perspective of being a leader in the region. This is the lesson that the world must teach Beijing.
Liu Shih-chung is deputy secretary-general of the Tainan City Government and a former director of the DPP’s International Affairs Department.
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