How will Taiwan work to build stable relations with China at a time when Beijing is heightening tensions across the Taiwan Strait? This is a daunting task facing Taiwan’s new administration.
Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, has been inaugurated as Taiwan’s new president. The new administration marks the first change of government in eight years, replacing the Nationalist Party government of her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, which hurriedly promoted a rapprochement with China.
Referring to the China-Taiwan relationship in her inaugural address, Tsai emphasized that “the stable and peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship must be continuously promoted.” With dialogue and other communication between the Taiwan and Chinese authorities in mind, she also said her administration would “work to maintain the existing mechanisms.”
Tsai’s address can be viewed as clarifying her intention to maintain the status quo — pursuing neither independence nor unification — as pledged in her presidential election campaign.
Tsai’s overwhelming victory reflects the will of most people in Taiwan, who hope to see the status quo preserved. There is a growing perception particularly among the younger generation of the island to identify themselves as “being Taiwanese,” thinking China and Taiwan are separate.
Tsai must undertake the difficult task of leading Taiwan so it can achieve economic growth while also maintaining a certain distance from China, which it has become increasingly reliant on economically.
The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping has sought to restrain Taiwan both politically and economically, urging Tsai to accept the “1992 consensus,” by which both sides are said to have acknowledged the “One China” principle.
In her inaugural address, Tsai stated the two institutions representing each side held talks in 1992 and arrived at some mutual understanding, citing the move as a political foundation for developing the China-Taiwan relationship. She also said, “I respect this historical fact,” a remark intended to show consideration for China. However, she did not refer to the contents of the consensus.
The Chinese government has issued a statement that Tsai has not clearly acknowledged the 1992 consensus. If Beijing exerts greater pressure on her administration, it will inevitably lead to tensions between Beijing and Taipei.
In March, China established diplomatic relations with the West African nation of Gambia, which had had diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The move can be seen as an attempt to exert further pressure on Taiwan’s diplomatic policy through such means as undermining friendly relations between other countries and Taiwan.
China has also continued to exercise such pressure as restricting visits to Taiwan by Chinese tourists. None of these conducts are worthy of a major power responsible for preserving stability across the Taiwan Strait and, by extension, in Asia. It will only arouse greater international mistrust in China.
The Xi administration must pursue bilateral economic exchanges and continued dialogue between the authorities of both sides.
In late April, Ma took a hard-line stance on Japan in reaction to the seizure of a Taiwan fishing boat in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in waters around Okinotorishima island.
We believe talks held early this month between Tsai and Liberal Democratic Party members, including Nobuo Kishi, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, will serve to mend strained relations between Japan and Taiwan. It is essential for Japan to act closely in concert with the United States and pursue greater cooperation with Taiwan.