Tsai’s trip will not serve in­tended pur­pose

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEWS -

Aweek be­fore Tai­wan leader Tsai Ing-wen trav­els to Latin Amer­ica, Zhang Zhi­jun, head of the main­land’s Tai­wan Af­fairs Of­fice, said in hisNewYear’s mes­sage that the Chi­nese main­land will share de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties with Tai­wan while firmly op­pos­ing “Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence” ac­tiv­i­ties.

Tsai’s week­long trip to Latin Amer­ica from Satur­day will take her toHon­duras, Nicaragua, Gu­atemala and El Sal­vador, with stopover s in­Hous­ton and San Fran­cisco in theUnited States. Her visit is aimed at strength­en­ing the is­land’s “diplo­matic ties” with 21 coun­tries, mostly in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, af­ter los­ing the African is­land na­tion of Sao Tome and Principe, which re­sumed diplo­matic re­la­tions with Bei­jing last month.

The main­land has ex­er­cised ut­most re­straint de­spite know­ing the Tsai ad­min­is­tra­tion will ig­nore the 1992 Con­sen­sus while seek­ing to main­tain re­la­tions with its “diplo­matic al­lies”. In fact, the main­land has given the is­land enough time to fin­ish the “in­com­plete test” and put cross-Straits re­la­tions back on the right track, with­out wound­ing its “po­lit­i­cal dig­nity”.

How­ever, judg­ing by what she and her Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party have said and done over the past seven months, Tsai has failed to see the big pic­ture that is so clear to the main­land. On the con­trary, she re­mains non­com­mit­tal on the one-China prin­ci­ple, the po­lit­i­cal bedrock of cross-Straits ties, and is poised to wade into un­charted wa­ters.

Gim­micks like call­ingUS pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to con­grat­u­late him on his vic­tory will not help Tsai to end the is­land’s “diplo­matic” predica­ment. In­stead, they will add to the risk of ex­ac­er­bat­ing the al­ready strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween the main­land and Tai­wan.

Thanks to the ar­range­ments based on the one-China prin­ci­ple andUNRes­o­lu­tion 2758, which rec­og­nizes the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China as the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try, the is­land can take part in in­ter­na­tional events that suit its sta­tus. Should it seek to over­step the bound­aries, nor­mal re­la­tions with the main­land would be a pie in the sky.

In essence, Tai­wan’s “money pol­i­tics” can­not last long, es­pe­cially be­cause its econ­omy has been strug­gling to pick up. Urged to tighten the is­land’s “diplo­matic” bud­get to im­prove peo­ple’s liveli­hoods, Tsai had promised to stop of­fer­ing one-sided fi­nan­cial aid to the is­land’s so-called over­seas al­lies af­ter she as­sumed of­fice in­May.

But money mat­ters in diplo­macy. For ex­am­ple, Sao Tome and Principe sev­ered its ties with the is­land, os­ten­si­bly be­cause of the lat­ter’s fail­ure to ful­fill the de­mand for $210 mil­lion “gift money”—$70 mil­lion as in­stant do­na­tion and $140 mil­lion as low-in­ter­est loans.

The same could hap­pen with Tai­wan’s re­main­ing 21 “al­lies”. Even when the dis­rup­tive Chen Shui-bian was the is­land leader be­tween 2000 and 2008, the money-wielding trick did not stop six “al­lies” from break­ing away from Tai­wan. So, it is not im­pos­si­ble for the is­land to lose all its other “friends”.

Sid­ing with theUnited States is equally un­likely to help the is­land, asWash­ing­ton can­not af­ford to sever its diplo­matic ties with Bei­jing. It would be po­lit­i­cal im­ma­tu­rity on the part of Tsai to mis­in­ter­pret or un­der­es­ti­mate the main­land’s de­ter­mined pur­suit of peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Tai­wan Stud­ies, Bei­jing Union Uni­ver­sity.

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