16 February 2019
Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen has resisted pressure from Beijing to acknowledge 'one China'. Photo: Bloomberg
Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen has resisted pressure from Beijing to acknowledge 'one China'. Photo: Bloomberg

Tsai rejects ‘one China’ without saying it aloud

Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) soft-toned inauguration speech in Taiwan broached the subject of cross-strait relations in a somewhat peripheral manner.

Going through the text of the 6,000-character speech released by the presidential office, we can see that the word “consensus” appeared only once during the address.

Taiwanese have responded positively to the tasks that Tsai has outlined for her presidency.

A quick survey by the Beijing-friendly China Times newspaper found that 63 percent of the people expressed confidence in the new administration while those who took a negative view numbered just 6 percent.

Tsai, who took over as Taiwan’s president last Friday, is obviously riding a popularity wave now.

Also, we should note that her speech was mainly targeted at her domestic audience.

Among foreign reactions, Tokyo said that Taiwan remains a key partner.

The US State Department, as well as the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei, congratulated Tsai on her inauguration as the Taiwan’s fourth democratically elected president, and lauded the peaceful transition of power.

The only criticism within the island came from the Kuomintang’s pro-unification advocates, the “deep blue” faction led by KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the party’s presidential candidate who was dragged down by KMT bigwigs at the last minute.

Hung blasted Tsai for evading the 1992 Consensus and said the uncertainty surrounding the Taiwan Strait worries her. What Hung was uttering was exactly Beijing’s official line.

Tsai said she respects the “historical fact” that “in 1992, the two institutions representing each side across the strait arrived at various joint acknowledgements and understandings”.

She avoided the word “consensus”.

The fact remains that the 1992 talks were held before Taiwan’s democratization and even if there was a one-China consensus, it was just between Beijing and the KMT.

Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party don’t feel any obligation to acknowledge such consensus that lacks Taiwan people’s approval.

The DPP’s Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said in his inauguration speech back in 2000 that both sides share common culture, history and lineage and the one-China question can be discussed in the future.

Chen saw “one China” as one possible option but 16 years later Tsai didn’t even mention the word “China” in her own speech.

Although there’s no direct denial from Tsai, the new leader has unequivocally ruled out the 1992 Consensus.

Tsai needs to fend off troublemakers from the deep-blue camp, so far, her appointments of cabinet members represent a smart move for a coalition.

There are just 11 DPP members in her 37-strong cabinet, while eight are from the KMT or have KMT background, and they take up vital posts such as foreign minister, defense minister, and director of the Mainland Affairs Council.  

The rest of cabinet members, including Premier Lin Chuan (林全), are without any party affiliation.

In contrast, more than 60 percent of members of Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) first cabinet in 2008 were from the KMT.

Don’t expect any provocative declarations from Tsai in the next four years, even though Taiwan’s youth will surely speak for her on the topic of independence.

If Tsai and her DPP, now at the helm of the entire state apparatus, can work toward independence, no one will be able to hold her back.

Taiwan people will only become more supportive of the idea of an independent nation.

Hong Kong people, meanwhile, will be following the developments closely as they mull over their own city’s future.

There’s very little that Beijing can do to stem various aspirations from gaining ground.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 23.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Taiwan Air Force fighter jets perform maneuvers as a Taiwanese flag hangs from a lamppost during Tsai’s inauguration ceremony on May 20, Photo: Bloomberg

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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