President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) once proposed a “golden decade,” a pretty slogan that resulted in a loss of sovereignty, an economic slump and deteriorating living standards. Luckily, president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) now have a firm grip on power, having won both the presidency and a legislative majority.
The day after her election, Tsai met with US and Japanese diplomats. This is reminiscent of how former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) mentioned “leaning to one side” when discussing foreign policy in his essay On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Foreign policy is the extension of domestic policy and it is easy to see that, as Tsai deals with the economic mess Ma is leaving, she must work closely with the US and Japan to rebuild the economy, improve living standards and revive Taiwan.
However, Tsai’s “leaning to one side” differs from Mao’s. Then-US ambassador to China John Leighton Stuart remained in Nanjing to meet with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but Mao refused and instead wrote five articles for the Xinhua news agency condemning US imperialism.
Tsai has done nothing of the kind and China has not shown any strong reaction. By interpreting that as good will on China’s part, Tsai is extending goodwill gesture toward China, which is in line with her view of approaching China from an international community perspective.
China’s reaction to Tsai’s victory has been much friendlier than that of then-Chinese premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) 16 years ago. It could be an expression of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) pragmatism, or just a result of all his domestic troubles, leaving him with no time to respond.
The severity of China’s internal crisis can be seen in the chaos that has resulted from military reform: Last week, a plan to reduce the nation’s seven military regions to four areas was increased to five areas, and the Beijing military region, which was to belong to the northern military area was transferred to the central military area. Also, Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Lieutenant General Liu Yuan (劉源) — the son of former Chinese president Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇) — last month retired early. China would have to be suicidal to enter a war at this time.
Last year, China’s exports fell for most of the year and the nation failed to reach GDP growth of 7 percent. Capital is leaving, foreign reserves are falling rapidly and the yuan is repeatedly being devalued — all of which has led to a stock-market meltdown. Rapid economic growth has reached its limit and is now entering a downward cycle, challenging former World Bank vice president Justin Lin’s (林毅夫) statement that rapid growth in the Chinese economy could continue for another 30 years. Falling numbers of people traveling abroad is another sign of such decline, while Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has affected the efficiency of economic efforts.
As the anti-corruption campaign has become a tool in a power struggle, the internal CCP struggle is more intense than observers might think. Late last year, PLA Air Force General Liu Yazhou (劉亞洲) — son-in-law of former Chinese president Li Xiannian (李先念) — paraphrasing Mao, said that “sometimes reform is also politics with bloodshed.”
There already exists differences of opinion within the CCP over whether Xi should be re-elected at the party’s 19th National Congress next year, and it appears Xi is often forced to cover up internal disputes.
Perhaps the crisis in China and the transition in Taiwan offer a golden opportunity for the two. Hopefully the DPP and the public make good use of the situation and work together to run Taiwan and welcome a brighter future.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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