Defiant Tsai threatens cross-Straits progress

By Zhang Hua Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/11 19:53:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Monday marked Taiwan's 105th commemoration of Double Tenth Day. Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen delivered a speech during the event that did not include goodwill to the Chinese mainland.

Tsai has chosen to continue her hard-line attitude toward the mainland since she assumed office in May. She reiterated what some Taiwan media has termed her "new Four Nos" for cross-Strait relations: no changes to the status quo, no changes in its goodwill, no bowing to pressure and no reversion to the old path of confrontation.

However, she did not mention the 1992 Consensus, an essential agreement that determines the One-China principle.

It seems that cross-Straits relations are still at a crossroad.

When Tsai was sworn into office, the Chinese mainland responded to her inaugural speech as an "unfinished answer sheet."

To her credit, she has made some compromise such as recognizing the existence of a historical meeting between both sides in 1992, and agrees to develop the cross-Straits ties under the Act of Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, which was enacted by then Taiwan government in 1991.

But Tsai's mainland policy refuses to admit the 1992 Consensus.

Upon Tsai's ascension, the mainland hoped that Taiwan would keep away from currents of independence, accept the 1992 Consensus, finish the "unfinished answer sheet," and work together with the mainland to improve cross-Straits relations.

However, the recent months have seen Tsai taking on an obstinate attitude toward the mainland, avoiding topics concerning cross-Straits relations, claiming that she has already shown goodwill and refusing to adjust her policy.

Tsai's stubbornness may derive from her initial confidence at the beginning of her tenure, or her underestimation of the mainland's will to stem Taiwan's independence, or her overestimation of support from the US and Japan.

In September, as cross-Straits relations took on an antagonistic intensity, protests within the island sprung up, and the US and Japan did not offer a helping hand to Taiwan. Tsai has started to recalibrate her mainland policy, but not for the mutual benefit of both sides.

Tsai has decided to go toward independence and confrontation. She claimed that her government won't succumb to pressure from the mainland.

Tsai's speech at the Double Tenth commemoration can be seen as a weather vane for her future plan for cross-Straits relations, but it is disappointingly unconstructive, and has only resulted in more tensions between the mainland and Taiwan.

Tsai's speech may have serious consequences.

First, if mainland policymakers determine that Tsai is an uncooperative leader that will not alter her pro-independence policy, the mainland will lose patience and not give the Tsai government more leeway for readjustment.

Second, incited by Tsai's growing tendency to independence, pro-independence forces will leverage the situation to conduct more independence activities. This tit-for-tat between the mainland and Taiwan's pro-independence forces will only worsen the situation.

It is up to Tsai whether this dangerous scenario can be avoided or not. If she refuses to return to the right path of the 1992 Consensus, the achievements made in the past two decades will be completely ruined, and cross-Straits relations will be locked in antagonism. But Taiwan must understand that the mainland has an overwhelming advantage in every aspect of the relationship. A showdown would be a mere sting for the mainland, but a catastrophe for Taiwan.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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