After more than two years of frozen ties across the strait, Beijing-Taipei relations finally saw hope of a partial breakthrough last week as various newly elected local chiefs took office in Taiwan.
All of these new mayors and county chiefs have expressed strong desire to enhance exchanges with their mainland counterparts.
Among them is Han Kuo-yu, the newly sworn-in Kaohsiung mayor from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), who reiterated his endorsement of the so-called “1992 Consensus” last Tuesday when he took office.
Han also immediately overhauled a “cross-strait working group” in his municipal government in a bid to boost the export of Kaohsiung agricultural produce to China and draw more mainland investors.
Apart from Han, many other newly sworn-in local chiefs across Taiwan are also working aggressively to formulate new plans to enhance cross-strait exchanges and dialogue.
As to the highly popular Ko Wen-je, who got re-elected as the Taipei mayor in the recent nine-in-one local elections, he didn’t publicly root for the “1992 Consensus” like his KMT counterparts did, but he didn’t reject the idea either.
Moreover, at the recent Shanghai-Taipei City Forum, Ko once again made the remark of “one family” of the two sides of the Strait.
As far as the mainland is concerned, it certainly welcomes their endorsement of the “1992 Consensus”, which has long been regarded by Beijing as the premise of its relations with Taipei.
And the reason why Han and other new KMT local chiefs dare to bypass Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and reach out to the mainland directly is that the results of the recent local elections have sent a crystal clear message: the Taiwanese people are deeply unhappy with the current economic and political status quo under the rule of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and are desperately looking forward to change.
Given the strong mandate from the public, new mayors and county chiefs of the “blue camp” are wasting no time in extending the olive branch to the mainland, as they are perfectly aware that improvement in cross-strait relations is the key to jump-starting the currently sluggish Taiwanese economy.
Nevertheless, in our opinion, while the ongoing efforts by provincial chiefs in Taiwan might be helpful in achieving partial improvement in cross-strait ties, at the end of the day, a full-scale reconciliation between Beijing and Taipei wouldn’t be possible unless Tsai changes her policy line and accepts the “1992 Consensus”.
The Taiwan president has remained defiant at the “1992 Consensus” and insisted on sticking to her current policy line despite the recent election setback.
Tsai, meanwhile, is coming under mounting pressure from the hard-line pro-independence faction within the DPP to not seek a second term in the 2020 election and instead allow the sitting head of the Executive Yuan, William Lai Ching-te, to run on behalf of the DPP.
Given that, chances for the beleaguered Tsai to embark on major policy changes over cross-strait relations in her remaining term in office are pretty remote.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 29
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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