23 May 2019
While maintaining the status quo, Tsai Ing-wen seeks to deny the 1992 consensus that recognizes that both Taiwan and the mainland belong to one China. Photo: Bloomberg
While maintaining the status quo, Tsai Ing-wen seeks to deny the 1992 consensus that recognizes that both Taiwan and the mainland belong to one China. Photo: Bloomberg

Ball is now in Tsai Ing-wen’s court

The Democratic Progressive Party’s victory in Taiwan’s elections turned out to be even greater than expected, so much so that Beijing, which used to fulminate at the DPP-led pro-independence camp, has had to adopt softer tactics.

The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, said the mainland will display maximum patience and goodwill to dissolve mistrust and win over people’s hearts.

The bellicose Global Times has suddenly become dovish, too, saying in an editorial that the votes for president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) were not necessarily votes for the island’s independence.

One thing to note is that the votes Tsai garnered (over 6.89 million) were 10,000 times those Leung Chun-ying received when 689 members of the 1200-strong election committee voted for him to become Hong Kong’s chief executive four years ago.

Most Taiwan constituencies have turned green (the color of the DPP), and the traditional boundaries dividing the electoral bases of the Kuomintang and the DPP have become blurred.

In last weekend’s rout, the KMT only secured the four least-populated counties — Taitung, Hualien, Kinmen and Lienchiang – out of the total of 13 and even lost the capital city, Taipei, and New Taipei City — of which the KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu Li-luan (朱立倫) is the mayor – to the DPP.

Tsai got three million more votes than Chu.

In the Legislative Yuan elections held concurrently with the presidential race, the KMT won merely 35 seats, 29 fewer than last time, while the DPP managed to send 68 members to the parliament.

With Tsai’s landslide victory and a majority in the 133-seat legislature, the DPP has become the absolute ruling party, a result even the green camp itself didn’t anticipate.

The third-largest party is the lesser-known New Power Party, which made a name for itself only after the Sunflower student movement less than two years ago.

Now, tabling bills, including initiatives toward desinicization, and having them passed by the legislature will be a breeze for the DPP.

Any efforts to amend the constitution to declare Taiwan’s full independence would, however, court a belligerent response from China, as shown during Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) presidency.

The KMT has, in recent years, crawled to the mainland seeking economic sweeteners for the island’s business community, which has long been the party’s core support base.

But the DPP has had a clear bottom line as regards the island’s sovereignty: to obfuscate and deny the “1992 Consensus” (“one China, two interpretations”) while maintaining the cross-strait status quo.

This is also Tsai’s dominant strategy.

Beijing cannot respond harshly, because Tsai commands an unequivocal mandate after the election.

Tsai’s reasoning is that Beijing can hardly resort to hostilities in as much as, apart from a guaranteed international backlash, it already has a string of challenges to cope with, whether it be its own economic woes, widespread corruption in the military or stormy tensions in the South China Sea.

The only thing Tsai should refrain from doing is amending the constitution to declare full independence.

Now she has the ball in her court.

Perhaps she should thank the KMT for cooking up the “1992 Consensus” and all its ambiguities, as otherwise she wouldn’t have any room for maneuver but would have to clearly state her policy regarding independence or reunification — one or the other.

For its part, the KMT should thank Mao Zedong (毛澤東) for changing the name of the communist country in 1949 from the Republic of China (ROC, 中華民國) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC, 中華人民共和國), otherwise the KMT wouldn’t have had a different name for the island and its own interpretation of “one China” under the consensus made in 1992.

If Taiwan and the mainland had agreed to share the same name, all the troublesome sensitivities wouldn’t exist and China’s reunification could have been easier to achieve, albert in name only.

The DPP has, historically, detested the name ROC and the national flag, colloquially known as the “Blue Sky, White Sun and a Wholly Red Earth (青天白日滿地紅旗)”.

But that changed when Tsai agreed to attend last year’s National Day celebrations and was seen singing the national anthem.

Side by side with the DPP’s luminously green party flag, the ROC national flag also appeared at her election office.

The history of the KMT confusing a political party with the state ended with Taiwan’s democratization, unfettering the ROC and the national flag from the party that hijacked them.

Recent incidents — like an apology by a Taiwanese member of a South Korean pop group for displaying the ROC national flag (many suspect she was forced into making the apology so as to soothe angry mainlanders) – show Beijing has never endorsed the “one China, two interpretations” consensus in action but equates the ROC with an independent Taiwan.

In contrast to the DPP’s strong condemnations of the mainland stance in these controversies, the KMT has been seen to be lukewarm in its support of Taiwan, angering numerous voters.

Now the DPP has effectively turned the symbols of the ROC into signifiers of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

These developments may bring the party closer to the anticommunist factions in the opposition camp but are certainly not good news for Beijing’s yesmen in the KMT.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 18.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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