Tsai should be look­ing be­yond the 2016 elec­tion



Nearly eight months have passed since last year’s lo­cal elec­tions. Since its crush­ing de­feat, the Kuom­intang ( KMT) as the rul­ing party has yet to re­build it­self, im­press the public, or re­cover back­ing from tra­di­tional sup­port­ers and mod­er­ate vot­ers. The out­come of the 2016 elec­tion is al­ready clear. A united and con­fi­dent Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party ( DPP) is read­ily an­tic­i­pat­ing a trans­fer of po­lit­i­cal power from a frag­mented and slack­ing rul­ing party in which the strong­est po­ten­tial can­di­dates have in­di­cated no in­ten­tion to run amid low ap­proval rat­ings of Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

DPP Chair­woman and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Tsai Ing-wen is widely ad­mired for her ex­pe­ri­ences in in­ter­na­tional and cross-strait af­fairs. Tsai grad­u­ated from Na­tional Tai­wan Univer­sity in 1978 and Cor­nell Univer­sity in 1980 and ob­tained her Ph.D. in law from the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics in 1984 at age 28. Her ex­pe­ri­ences as univer­sity pro­fes­sor and trade ne­go­tia­tor opened the door to more se­nior po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment lead­er­ship. Un­der Pres­i­dent Lee Teng-hui, Tsai served on the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. She was a chief ar­chi­tect of Pres­i­dent Lee’s 1999 “Two States The­ory,” which in­ter­prets the cross-strait re­la­tion­ship as spe­cial state-to-state re­la­tions.

In the Taipei po­lit­i­cal arena still mainly dom­i­nated by males, Tsai en­tered the scene in 2000 as the Main­land Af­fairs Coun­cil (MAC) min­is­ter un­der Pres­i­dent Chen Shui-bian. In just a few years, Tsai rapidly ex­pe­ri­enced and pro­gressed to be­come leg­is­la­torat-large, vice premier, and chair­woman of the DPP. Fol­low­ing her 2010 cam­paign for New Taipei City mayor, Tsai has been re­garded as a pres­i­den­tial fig­ure who re­built the DPP’s vigor and can bring forth re­ju­ve­nated lead­er­ship. Be- cause polls con­tinue to show Tsai’s com­mand­ing lead over Hung Hsi­uchu, her KMT op­po­nent, it is in Tai­wan’s best in­ter­est for Tsai to set her sights for the long run be­yond next year’s elec­tions.

The next pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­lic of China needs to over­come di­vides and break the in­cum­bent po­lit­i­cal grid­lock. Since the first trans­fer of po­lit­i­cal power in 2000, Tai­wan’s rul­ing and op­po­si­tion par­ties have ex­pe­ri­enced dead­lock and stalled the pas­sage of im­por­tant laws in the Leg­isla­tive Yuan. At present, for ex­am­ple, the crossstrait agree­ment on trade in ser­vices, the su­per­vi­sory pro­vi­sions for cross-strait agree­ments, and the spe­cial pro­vi­sions for free eco­nomic pi­lot zones are await­ing de­lib­er­a­tion and see no leg­isla­tive ap­proval in sight. Such par­ti­san­ship and in­ef­fi­ciency make the gov­ern­ment’s im­ple­men­ta­tion of public poli­cies es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult and in turn hin­der Tai­wan’s eco­nomic progress and na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

There should be com­pe­ti­tion among po­lit­i­cal par­ties in a vi­brant democ­racy. Op­po­si­tion par­ties by their na­ture will not sim­ply co­op­er­ate or yield to the rul­ing party be­cause they must ex­er­cise their role of checks and bal­ances. But im­ped­ing achieve­ments by the party in power sim­ply for the sake of it strikes a sim­i­lar­ity to the “pris­oner’s dilemma” in eco­nomic game the­ory in which two par­ties choose not to co­op­er­ate even though it might be in their best in­ter­ests to do so. This vi­cious cy­cle is a lose-lose sit­u­a­tion and ar­guably the worst pos­si­ble out­come for the na­tion. Over­com­ing this pris­oner’s dilemma will re­quire the co­op­er­a­tion of both sides as a first step in cre­at­ing a win-win so­lu­tion. For ex­am­ple, in­de­pen­dence and uni­fi­ca­tion rep­re­sent ex­treme so­lu­tions to the de­bate on Tai­wan’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus. It is prob­a­bly a mod­er­ate so­lu­tion in be­tween them that can serve the best course for Tai­wan. As such, the next pres­i­dent must have the abil­ity to rec­on­cile so as to re­solve ten­sions, pro­mote co­op­er­a­tion, and fur­ther public af­fairs.

Sec­ond, the gov­ern­ment must be ready to take over and di­rect a new course of na­tional de­vel­op­ment. In re­cent years, the global eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment has changed rapidly, and Tai­wan’s econ­omy is fac­ing enor­mous chal­lenges. For in­stance, the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion has seen the ad­just­ment of eco­nomic struc­tures and the es­tab­lish­ment of re­gional sup­ply chains, which im­pact Tai­wan’s po­si­tion in the in­ter­na­tional di­vi­sion of man­u­fac­tur­ing la­bor. The re­gional in­te­gra­tion of trade and in­vest­ment threat­ens the sur­vival of Tai­wanese busi­nesses.

Do­mes­ti­cally, Tai­wan’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment con­fronts the is­sues of so­cial jus­tice and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. In ad­di­tion to the per­sis­tent un­der­em­ploy­ment of highly ed­u­cated young peo­ple and stag­nant or back­slid­ing wages, is­sues like the widen­ing gap be­tween rich and poor and un­fair tax sys­tems have spurred var­i­ous move­ments call­ing for greater so­cioe­co­nomic jus­tice. Ad­di­tion­ally, the rise of en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness makes us ques­tion whether eco­nomic progress or en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion should take prece­dence in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances. In light of these do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional pres­sures, the next pres­i­dent must be pre­pared not only to be fa­mil­iar with the is­sues but also make timely de­ci­sions and con­vince the peo­ple.

Fi­nally, the next pres­i­dent has to es­tab­lish a co­her­ent in­ter­nal con­sen­sus in Tai­wan so as to con­struct a new or­der in crossstrait re­la­tions. Since his in­au­gu­ra­tion, main­land Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping has not been afraid to col­lide on the ex­ter­nal front with ma­jor pow­ers like the United States and Ja­pan over geo-po­lit­i­cal and mar­itime is­sues. Xi has pushed forth mile­stone ini­tia­tives and re­forms, in­clud­ing a mas­sive an­ticor­rup­tion cam­paign, the “One Belt, One Road” eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment frame­work, for­ma­tion of the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB), and ex­pan­sion of pi­lot “free-trade zones” from Shang­hai to Tian­jin, Fu­jian and Guang­dong.

In con­trast, Tai­wan un­der the past few pres­i­dents has been un­able to reach in­ter­nal con­sen­sus. This lack of pop­u­lar man­date has weak­ened and made pas­sive Tai­wan’s ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion. Thus, on cross-strait is­sues, the next pres­i­dent must have the abil­ity to build in­ter­nal con­sen­sus, strengthen Tai­wan’s po­si­tion in cross-strait ne­go­ti­a­tions, and have a strong will to de­fend his stand. Only then can Tai­wan ex­pect to de­fend its own in­ter­ests against the Bei­jing’s cen­tral­ized and au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­er­ship and build a new or­der in cross-strait re­la­tions.

Tsai Ing-wen’s po­lit­i­cal mod­er­a­tion as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date sug­gests that she learned im­por­tant lessons from her first rocky bid in 2012. Cer­tainly, no politi­cian can achieve all pol­icy ob­jec­tives at once. Lead­ers must be strate­gic in im­ple­ment­ing change. Fur­ther­more, vot­ers pri­or­i­tize the econ­omy, and a weak econ­omy un­der­mines Tai­wan’s in­ter­na­tional po­si­tion. Tsai will need in­ter­na­tional sup­port, es­pe­cially from the United States, to achieve her agenda. Iron­i­cally, a more mod­er­ate course is also the only way that Tsai can achieve the DPP’s long-term goal of build­ing a more sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent Tai­wan.

Tai­wan’s next pres­i­dent needs not only pro­fes­sional know-how but also wis­dom in plan­ning and com­pro­mise. As a scholar, Tsai’s en­try into party pol­i­tics in 2008 sur­prised many observers. Since then, she has led the DPP from the depths of de­feat and over­come the older-gen­er­a­tion lead­ers of her party and is cur­rently at­tempt­ing her sec­ond chal­lenge for the pres­i­dency. While surely im­per­fect, Tsai’s courage, per­se­ver­ance, and abil­ity to solve prob­lems present a new choice in Tai­wan’s pol­i­tics that con­tin­ues to face the stag­ger­ing of old and new ideas and daunt­ing eco­nomic and strate­gic chal­lenges.

In her memoir, for­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice fit­tingly re­flected: “To­day’s head­lines and history’s judg­ment are rarely the same. If you are too at­ten­tive to the for­mer, you will most cer­tainly not do the hard work of se­cur­ing the lat­ter.” This is ad­vice that Tsai should take heed. Al­fred Tsai cur­rently at­tends Columbia Univer­sity, where he is study­ing eco­nom­ics and po­lit­i­cal science.

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