Date
18 January 2017
A live-fire drill is shown on state television, supplying the exclamation mark to Beijing's statement that it is resolutely opposed to any independence action by Taiwan under its new leader, Tsai Ing-wen. Photos: CCTV, Reuters
A live-fire drill is shown on state television, supplying the exclamation mark to Beijing's statement that it is resolutely opposed to any independence action by Taiwan under its new leader, Tsai Ing-wen. Photos: CCTV, Reuters

Here’s an intriguing subplot in Tsai’s unfolding presidency

No sooner had the dust settled in Taiwan’s presidential election than China began making noises about cross-strait relations.

So we had Beijing reminding Taipei about the “One China” policy as Tsai Ing-wen was delivering her victory speech with her own take on the contentious issue.

Tsai won on a pro-independence platform, although she chose not to dwell on it during the campaign, but her speech signaled her stance on the so-called “1992 Consensus”, an informal understanding between Beijing and Taipei that leaves the idea of a single China to each other’s interpretation.

The existence of this principle has been disputed by Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party but that has not stopped her pro-independence allies from invoking it.

They acknowledge that there is only one China but insist that Taiwan is a sovereign country.

We know that Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province, so there’s the rub. 

Tsai’s victory unravelled eight years of courtship by Beijing of her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, who ultimately paid the price for warming to the mainland in the resounding defeat of his Kuomintang allies.

Now Beijing finds itself again in choppy waters while Tsai ponders the best possible way to smooth them.

In a newspaper interview on Thursday, Tsai said she “understands and respects” the fact that Taiwan and China “reached some common acknowledgements and understanding in 1992″.

That was her first definitive statement on the 1992 Consensus since her election but she left Chinese officials in no doubt that she intends to run it past the Taiwan constitution and the Taiwanese people.

Tsai never sounded as forceful during the campaign. In fact, she pledged no upheavals or any “accidental events” while being consciously vague about her cross-strait policy.

China responded to Tsai’s comments with more of the same rhetoric that has muddled its relationship with the island for the past six decades or so.

Beijing’s Taiwan affairs chief told a visiting senior US diplomat that China is resolutely opposed to any “independence action” by Taiwan.

State-owned China Central Television supplied the exclamation mark by airing live-fire exercises and military maneuvers by the People’s Liberation Army.

A Taiwan military source called them “psychological warfare” intended to warn the incoming government in Taipei to tread carefully.

Already, there are signs China is prepared to make the Taiwanese pay for electing a president unfriendly to Beijing.

In March, Beijing will begin cutting the number of Chinese tourists to the island, according to reports.

It’s a return to the carrot-and-stick strategy on previous Taiwanese administrations that has produced mixed results but has been more successful in isolating the island from the rest of the world.

Beijing uses it to dangle billions of dollars in trade and investment deals on other countries that support the “One China” doctrine — and there are many of them.

But despite its diplomatic isolation, Taiwan has powerful friends of its own, notably the United States, Britain and Japan which were among the first to congratulate Tsai on her election victory.

This week, a petition launched in Britain to promote the idea of an independent Taiwan hit 17,000-plus signatures.

Its organizer, a Briton named Chapman Lee, wants Taiwan to be recognized as a country and callis the “One China” policy a “ridiculous idea that must be rejected”.

His campaign is not going to move the conversation one way or another but it’s an intriguing subplot in the unfolding story of Tsai’s impending presidency.

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SC/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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