Tsai’s dec­la­ra­tion be­gins race to de­fine the am­bigu­ous


Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP) Chair­woman Tsai Ing-wen ( ) of­fi­cially de­clared her can­di­dacy for the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race on Wed­nes­day, em­pha­siz­ing she would par­tic­i­pate in “the Repub­lic of China’s (R.O.C.) next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on be­half of the DPP.”

Tsai also stated she would main­tain the sta­tus quo with China, which she in­di­cated as be­ing the prin­ci­ple be­hind the DPP’s cross- strait pol­icy. Her state­ments come as no sur­prise since Tsai, along with any pres­i­den­tial can­di­date on the is­land with a chance at the of­fice, needs to con­vince the vot­ers of Tai­wan, ma­jor al­lies such as the United States, and fi­nally China that a fea­si­ble bal­ance can be main­tained in pre­vent­ing po­lit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties from boil­ing over. This is hardly un­prece­dented: in May 1999, the DPP mod­er­ated its stance on in­de­pen­dence with the “Res­o­lu­tion on the Fu­ture of Tai­wan,” which ac­cepted the sta­tus quo while equat­ing Tai­wan and the R.O.C., for sim­i­lar rea­sons.

While Tsai’s cur­rent state­ment may come as a dis­ap­point­ment to ad­vo­cates of in­de­pen­dence in her party, and disin­gen­u­ous to sup­port­ers of the KMT who do not rule out re­uni­fi­ca­tion some day in the fu­ture, the tim­ing of the DPP chair­woman’s state­ment is aimed at tak­ing the ini­tia­tive on cross- strait ties.

In the past six years, Pres­i­dent Ma Ying- jeou’s tout­ing of his role in ex­pand­ing cross- strait eco­nomic ties un­der the frame­work of the “1992 Con­sen­sus” has in­ad­ver­tently trans­formed into the KMT’s Achilles’ heel. The “un­prece­dented” amount of con­tact and in­te­gra­tion, whether it be the con­clu­sion of the Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Frame­work Agree­ment (ECFA) in 2010, or con­tro­ver­sies be­hind the shelved Cross- Strait Trade in Ser­vices Agree­ment in 2014, is what Tsai is aimed at bal­anc­ing, over­see­ing and scru­ti­niz­ing. Uti­liz­ing the sta­tus quo means she is not re­quired to re­verse Ma’s poli­cies, but bring back the per­cep­tion that “the era of the un­prece­dented” ceases for the time be­ing.

A New Sta­tus Quo or the Same

Hold­ing Pat­tern?

Tsai and the DPP (as well as the KMT) are keenly aware that public per­cep­tion of cross-strait ties re­mains cau­tious more than one year af­ter the Sun­flower Move­ment cap­tured na­tional at­ten­tion. Bring­ing a con­sis­tent def­i­ni­tion of what the sta­tus quo en­tails does not mean ap­ing or align­ing DPP cross-strait pol­icy to the KMT play­book, but a bolder move to push cross-strait pol­icy in align­ment with the public’s cur­rent sen­ti­ments of China, or ul­ti­mately: the align­ment of the DPP’s ver­sion of the sta­tus quo with the public will.

The tim­ing of her an­nounce­ment also means that the up­com­ing KMT-CCP fo­rum early next month, which may also in­clude a meet­ing be­tween KMT Chair­man Eric Chu and Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping, can be framed in terms of main­tain­ing or over­step­ping the sta­tus quo as de­fined by the DPP.

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