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
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.