Tsai must clar­ify cross-Straits po­si­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

OnMay 29, Tsai Ing-wen, chair­woman of Tai­wan’s Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP), will begin a 12-day trip to the United States. The DPP can­di­date for Tai­wan’s 2016 lead­er­ship elec­tions will meet withUS gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, law­mak­ers, schol­ars and oth­ers with an in­ter­est in East Asian af­fairs. In Fe­bru­ary 2015, Tsai de­clared that “now is the time to build a new­po­lit­i­cal cul­ture with trans­parency.” But her po­si­tions to­ward many of the most im­por­tant is­sues of the day re­main opaque and un­clear, es­pe­cially her plans for han­dling cross-Straits re­la­tions. This makes of­fi­cials in­Wash­ing­ton ner­vous.

The DPP’s track record rep­re­sents an­other con­cern. Af­ter the DPP came to power in 2000, the is­land’s re­la­tions with both the Chi­nese main­land and theUS de­te­ri­o­rated. The ten­sions may be traced to a se­ries of “sur­prises” ini­ti­ated by for­mer Tai­wan leader Chen Shuib­ian. Th­ese “bomb­shells” in­cluded in­flam­ma­tory state­ments about “Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence” and con­tro­ver­sial calls for is­land-wide ref­er­en­dums and a new“Con­sti­tu­tion”. US of­fi­cials viewed the moves as ir­re­spon­si­ble, provoca­tive and desta­bi­liz­ing. By late 2004, the me­dia de­scribed Chen as Pres­i­den­tGe­orgeW. Bush’s “least fa­vorite demo­crat­i­cally elected leader” and Tai­wan’s me­dia was rife with ru­mors that Bush had cursed him. That same year, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts claimed that “US-Tai­wan re­la­tions are at their worst in the past 20 years”. Re­la­tions con­tin­ued on a down­ward spi­ral un­til 2008.

Fol­low­ing Kuom­intang can­di­dateMa Ying-jeou’s elec­tion victory in 2008, Taipei re­turned to the 1992 Con­sen­sus, an ar­range­ment whereby Tai­wan and the Chi­nese main­land ac­cept the prin­ci­ple of “one China”, but each side holds its own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what it means. By 2014, a to­tal of 21 cross-Straits agree­ments had been signed. An­a­lysts claimed that cross-Straits re­la­tions were at their best since the two sides were split by the civil war in 1949.

De­spite dif­fer­ences with Bei­jing over other is­sues, Wash­ing­ton has warmly wel­comed the cross-Straits rap­proche­ment. Sup­port for warm­ing cross-Straits ties is even en­shrined in the 2010Na­tional Se­cu­rity Strat­egy of theUS. It is also clear thatUS-Tai­wan unof­fi­cial re­la­tions have not suf­fered as a re­sult of the re­lax­ation in ten­sions across the Tai­wan Strait. Ma claims that this shows that “for the first time in his­tory, theUS can main­tain peace­ful and friendly ties with both Tai­wan and the main­land si­mul­ta­ne­ously.” US of­fi­cials ap­pear to agree with this as­sess­ment. Dur­ing a re­cent Con­gres­sional hear­ing, Daniel Russel, US as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state, went so far as to tes­tify that, “US-Tai­wan unof­fi­cial re­la­tions have never been bet­ter.”

As Tsai be­gins her visit to Amer­ica, US of­fi­cials can­not help but won­der whether she plans to move crossS­traits re­la­tions for­ward or if she will be­come a trou­ble­maker who em­braces the failed poli­cies of Chen Shuib­ian. The DPP re­jects the 1992 Con­sen­sus, and when asked how she plans to ap­proach re­la­tions with the Chi­nese main­land, Tsai has usu­ally pre­ferred to duck the is­sue. Re­cently, how­ever, Tsai has be­gun to claim that she will “main­tain the sta­tus quo.” Ma Ying-jeou de­scribes this vague ap­proach to cross-Straits re­la­tions as lit­tle more than “slo­gans,” while Eric Chu, Kuom­intang chair­man, blasts it as “gob­bledy­gook to take peo­ple in.” In an at­tempt to de­fend her­self, Tsai now claims that her pol­icy is “the same as that of theUnited States.” Can this be true?

If Tsai is gen­uinely pre­pared to em­brace theUS pol­icy to­ward Tai­wan, this is head­line news. Af­ter all, dur­ing a re­cent visit to Bei­jing, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pub­licly de­clared that theUS does not sup­port “Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence.” And like oth­erUS pres­i­dents, he has also promised to abide by theUS’ long­stand­ing one-China pol­icy.

Will Tsai make clear her po­si­tion to­ward cross-Straits re­la­tions dur­ing her visit to theUS? Or will we only hear more “dou­ble-talk” and “gob­bledy­gook?” If Tsai is un­will­ing or un­able to pro­vide clear an­swers to key ques­tions con­cern­ing cross-Straits re­la­tions, theUS should pub­licly voice reser­va­tions about her abil­ity to main­tain peace and sta­bil­ity in the Tai­wan Strait— just as it did dur­ing her pre­vi­ous cam­paign. Given theUS’ in­ter­ests in theWest­ern Pa­cific, the stakes are too high for theUS to re­main si­lent. The au­thor is direc­tor of the Grad­u­ate Pro­gram in Global Stud­ies at Mis­souri State Uni­ver­sity.

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