On Tuesday last week Foreign Affairs published an article by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) titled “Taiwan and the Fight for Democracy — A Force for Good in the Changing International Order,” outlining the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government’s responsibility in the Indo-Pacific region, and its basic principles for handling cross-strait relations.
“Taiwan will not bend to pressure, but nor will it turn adventurist, even when it accumulates support from the international community,” Tsai wrote.
“We are investing significant resources to deepen our understanding of the administration in Beijing,” she added.
The two points reflect the DPP government’s consistent approach. It was an appeal to Taiwanese, a commitment to the global community and an expression of goodwill toward Beijing.
This was the first time Tsai has said that Taiwan would not “turn adventurist” even with international encouragement. It was a pledge to all parties that the DPP government plans to handle risk responsibly, without crossing any political red lines or starting a war, so as to maintain peace and stability in the East and South China seas and across the Taiwan Strait.
Since Tsai came to power in 2016, Beijing has carried out large-scale military deterrence activities in these areas. During this period, China and the US also entered into strategic competition, while radical supporters of unification by military force and radical supporters of Taiwanese independence have confronted each other. Luckily, national leaders on the two sides are still able to manage regional risks rationally and calmly.
Tsai’s call for investing significant resources to “deepen our understanding” of Beijing must be acted upon, because it is a necessary means to reduce the risk for misunderstanding and misjudgement, and to help the two sides develop precise cross-strait policies.
There has been a gap in official and non-governmental exchanges between Taiwan and China since 2016, and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has widened this gap further. It is pleasing to see that the government is investing great resources in encouraging studies of China and cross-strait relations.
Hopefully, a new wave of exchanges and dialogue would allow the public and private sectors on the two sides to get to know each other again, while promoting mutual understanding and tolerance, which is a necessary foundation for cross-strait dialogue and negotiations.
On the Double Ten National Day four years ago, Tsai said: “Our goodwill will not change, our commitments will not change, we will not revert to the old path of confrontation, and we will not bow to pressure. This has been my consistent position on cross-strait relations.”
The two points of “not turning adventurist” and “promoting mutual understanding” are an extension of that statement.
Looking at the current situation in the Indo-Pacific region, Taiwan — with its pivotal location in the first island chain — cannot exclude itself from the China-US military competition and the their fight for dominance of the international political and economic order. When these elephants fight, it becomes even more necessary for Taiwan to take responsibility for regional peace and stability, and defend itself justly while making every effort to avoid a conflict.
It is unlikely that the political differences between the two sides can be resolved in the short term or by playing a zero-sum game. Hopefully, Taiwan and China can work together to create a positive cycle for peace and stability in cross-strait relations based on “not turning adventurist” and “promoting mutual understanding.”
Hong Chi-chang is a former chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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