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Opinion
Increasing Uncertainty
Cross-Straits relations is a critical issue that Taiwan's new leader needs to be clear on
By Yin Cunyi | NO. 22 JUNE 2, 2016

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, speaks at a press conference in Beijing on May 25 (XINHUA)

Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei on May 20. Following the change of leadership in Taiwan, the most important question now is whether the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will acknowledge the 1992 Consensus and its core implications, because the question involves the political foundation for peaceful development of cross-Straits relations. It also matters for the benefit of Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits as well as for regional stability and peace.

To most people's disappointment, Tsai posed an ambiguous stance on the 1992 Consensus in her inaugural address, not showing responsibility for history. Tsai's equivocation casts a huge shadow over the future of cross-Straits relations.

The 1992 Consensus, the common political foundation reached by the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, states that both sides of the Taiwan Straits uphold the one-China principle.

Tsai's political trick

Tsai had years ago expressed her secessionist views while she worked as a high-ranking official in cross-Straits affairs in both the administrations of Lee Teng-hui (1996-2000) and Chen Shui-bian (2000-08).

Tsai participated in research work for Lee's cross-Straits policy, in which Lee claimed that relations between the mainland and Taiwan are special relations between states.

In 2000, Chen and the DPP for the first time beat the Kuomintang and took over the leadership of Taiwan. Tsai was appointed the first DPP chairperson of the mainland affairs authority. At a press conference, Tsai publicly denied that the DPP acknowledged the 1992 Consensus.

In 2011, Tsai tried to replace the 1992 Consensus with the so-called "Taiwan consensus" in her 10-year political program that she prepared for the election campaign the next year as the DPP candidate. However, Tsai could not deny the existence of the 1992 talks but still denied the 1992 Consensus during a televised debate between candidates.

In 2015, Tsai participated in the election campaign for the second time. She learned from the past experiences and took an ambiguous stance on cross-Straits relations. In her campaign remarks, Tsai acknowledged that both sides of the Taiwan Straits reached some consensus and mutual understanding at a meeting in 1992. But she stressed that the cross-Straits relations should "maintain the present status" under the conditions of respecting the "current constitutional framework," "democratic principles" and "the will of the people in Taiwan."

In this way, Tsai deliberately avoided mentioning the core meaning of the 1992 Consensus—that both the mainland and Taiwan are part of China.

Tsai's equivocation is not only a trick of words. In fact, the DPP still insists on the proposition of separating Taiwan from China, according to the party's constitution. Moreover, the DPP has not established a relationship of mutual trust with the mainland. Therefore, it is reasonable for the mainland to urge Tsai to make clear her attitude toward the 1992 Consensus.

In her inaugural remarks, Tsai said both sides of the Taiwan Straits should "seek common points while putting aside differences." According to her, the two sides should suspend the argument over the 1992 Consensus and maintain the progress they have achieved in the last eight years. That is to say, Tsai wants to maintain the relationship with the mainland without acknowledging the 1992 Consensus.

The mainland stresses that both sides of the Taiwan Straits must abide strictly by the principle that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to China, which is a political premise for developing cross-Straits relations. This is also a common point for people across the straits. In whatever terms, either historical or according to present circumstances, cross-Straits relations are not a relationship between two states. The 1992 Consensus is not only the political cornerstone of cross-Straits relations but also an indispensable condition for the mainland and Taiwan to put aside their differences. It is the bottom line for developing cross-Straits relations.

Without acknowledging the 1992 Consensus, Tsai's attempt to maintain the current breakaway status of Taiwan and legitimize the party's separation proposition is totally wishful thinking.

Blocked relations

Based on the 1992 Consensus, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have since 2008 normalized ordinary communication and exchanges in various areas. And, talks between the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) have resumed.

Cross-Straits affairs authorities have reached as many as 23 cooperation deals, establishing communication mechanisms in various fields. During the period of Ma Ying-jeou's administration, cross-Straits relations reached their apogee for the last half century.

Last November, the leaders of the mainland and Taiwan, Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou respectively, historically shook hands at an epoch-making meeting in Singapore. Meanwhile, exchanges between people across the Straits are also going unprecedentedly well.

However, the smooth development of cross-Straits relations might be affected by Tsai's negative attitude toward the 1992 Consensus.

Without the political cornerstone, current work mechanisms between the mainland and Taiwan will be the first to be spoiled. Consultation and talks between cross-Straits affairs authorities, including contact between ARATS and SEF, will grind to a halt. Cooperation deals between the mainland and Taiwan, most of which center around economic cooperation, will not be able to continue due to the suspension of talks between the two sides. The efforts exerted by both sides over recent years will be wasted.

The economic cooperation mechanisms across the Straits are closely connected with other regional economies. If the economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan are disturbed by Taiwanese politics, then Taiwan will face more difficulty participating in regional economic integration efforts.

In 2010, the mainland and Taiwan reached the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). With the mainland's support, Taiwan subsequently signed economic cooperation deals with Singapore and New Zealand. But now, new economic deals will not come about if Tsai denies the 1992 Consensus. In particular, the DPP by itself can't have Taiwan participate in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Taiwan's economy will suffer greater hardship due to the decline of forces driving economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan. As is widely known, Taiwan has an open economy that relies greatly on exports. Exports accounts for over 60 percent of the region's GDP. In the 2008 financial crisis, Taiwan's economy suffered a recession, with an economic growth of minus 1.94 percent. However, after Taiwan signed the ECFA with the mainland in 2010, its annual economic growth rate reached 10.88 percent.

The DPP lost power in 2008 due to its bad management of Taiwan's economy. Under Chen Shui-bian's administration, from 2000 to 2008, Taiwan did not actively participate in regional or bilateral economic cooperation. During that period, the global economy entered into a period of adjustment with insufficient demand and changes in market impetus. Under such circumstances, Taiwan's export trade shrank markedly. Many enterprises experienced hardship. Without the great surplus created by closer economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan, Taiwan could not have achieved the economic recovery it has seen in recent years.

Currently, global trade demand remains weak, and world economic recovery is unstable. Both sides of the Taiwan Straits face a series of challenges in adjusting their economic structures and developing their emerging industries. If the two sides cannot expand their economic and trade cooperation further, Taiwan's economy will feel the impact of other competitive economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan will not be able to make use of its geographically advantageous position—being close to the mainland—and will lose opportunities to upgrade its economic structure. In short, the mainland is important for Taiwan to overcome its current economic difficulties and drive future growth.

However, the DPP has in the past refused any proposal of economic cooperation between the mainland and Taiwan. The pro-separation party always incites local ethnic groups to oppose the one-China principle. Tsai's negative stance on the 1992 Consensus will definitely harm Taiwan's economy and intensify the fragmentation of society. Consequently, the interests of the people in Taiwan will be damaged.

Mainland's unchanged policy

Because of the political environment in Taiwan, it is hard to avoid periodic fluctuations in cross-Straits relations. But, the mainland won't change its policy on Taiwan. As General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping said during the Fourth session of the 12th National People's Congress in Beijing this March, "The mainland's policy on Taiwan is always explicit and consistent, and the policy won't change even if the political situation in Taiwan changes."

"We will adhere to the 1992 Consensus as the political cornerstone for continuing to promote peaceful development of cross-Straits relations," Xi said.

The 1992 Consensus clarified the nature of cross-Straits relations. It is the key to ensuring peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. As long as Taiwan's authorities acknowledge the historical fact of the 1992 Consensus and its core meaning, the two sides have a common political base and can maintain sound interactions.

If Taiwan's new authorities deny the consensus or spoil the political base, the mainland will uncompromisingly fight against the separatist force.

Tsai's failure to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus in her inauguration implies that the political cornerstone of cross-Straits relations might be abandoned. If so, mutual political trust and regular communication mechanisms are likely to be damaged. Tsai and her DPP must bear the responsibility for the losses Taiwan will sustain as a result of the ensuing chain reaction.

The people in Taiwan are compatriots of the people on the mainland. For this reason, the mainland will work hard to cope with the changes in cross-Straits relations through enhancing connections across the Straits and promoting a common understanding of the one-China principle. Together with Taiwan compatriots, the mainland will fight against any form of attempt to seek "Taiwan independence," never letting the tragedy of national separation happen again.

The author is deputy dean of the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Tsinghua University

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to zanjifang@bjreview.com

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