Taiwan frontrunner may create trouble for Washington

By Kou Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2016/1/15 11:58:01

A supporter takes a photo of her friends as Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang "presidential" candidate Eric Chu arrives at a campaign rally in Taipei on Thursday. Photo: AP

The US is concerned over the future of cross-Straits relations as Taiwan's elections draw near, fearing Taiwan's "presidential" race frontrunner Tsai Ing-wen's independent-leaning attitude may upset the Chinese mainland and affect US regional influence, experts said.

Tsai, a candidate from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has always refused to publicly acknowledge the 1992 Consensus which states there is only one China. She is the frontrunner in the upcoming elections that will take place on Saturday.

Responding to the upcoming elections, the White House Wednesday called on Taiwan and the Chinese mainland to avoid an escalation of tensions, while Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said the US wants to see issues between Taiwan and the mainland dealt with peacefully, whatever the result of Saturday's election.

"We will think through what are the best ways to support that effort when we have greater clarify about both the election results and how that's playing out," he said, adding that the US does not take sides in the elections.

According to an opinion poll by Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) released on December 22, Tsai remains in the lead at 40.4 percent with KMT candidate Eric Chu Li-luan trailing at 30.9 percent, the Central News Agency reported.

The statement aims to persuade China to exercise restraint if the DDP assumes power, as well as warning Tsai to avoid inappropriate words or actions that may irritate the mainland, Wang Jianmin, a cross-Straits scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told the Global Times Thursday.

"The US needs a peaceful Taiwan to project its influence in the region. Failure to maintain good cross-Straits relations may harm US national interests and force it to choose sides if conflicts arise between the mainland and Taiwan," Chang Ya-chung, an international relations professor at National Taiwan University, told the Global Times.

The US has been trying to gain an advantage from both sides as it supports the mainland's one-China policy, but is committed under its Taiwan Relations Act to ensuring the island can defend itself in the event of conflict, the Reuters reported.

With strong backing for the commitment in the US Congress, Obama angered Beijing when he authorized a $1.83-billion arms sale package for Taiwan in December, Reuters reported.

"The US doesn't care about the election results, but the possibility of a conflict caused by a DPP victory will make it uneasy. The US is very unlikely to take further action on this issue, since it doesn't want to take a tough line with China," a Beijing-based Taiwan expert, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times.

Improved ties

Cross-Straits relations have greatly improved in recent years with current leader Ma Ying-jeou overseeing a rapprochement with the mainland. This has led to trade deals and a tourist boom, and at a meeting in Singapore in November 2015, Ma shook hands with President Xi Jinping, which has opened up a whole new chapter in cross-Straits relations.

"But cross-Straits relations could take a turn for the worse if the DPP wins, as Tsai's political stance is unlikely to change," Chang said.

Tsai is facing a complicated situation. She cannot change her political stance, otherwise she would come under enormous pressure from her supporters and DPP members, while insistence on her independent-leaning stance will definitely irritate the mainland, Chang noted.

Tsai's political stance has drawn US concerns, since her attitude may worsen cross-Straits relations, he said.

Tsai understands the stakes and said she will not provoke the mainland, so she may muddle through the mainland's demand for one China by using vague wordings, such as changing the 1992 Consensus into "1992 fact," Chang said.

He noted that the mainland will decide the future of cross-Straits relations, since Tsai does not really have any more cards to play.

Xi said in March that the 1992 Consensus is the political foundation for the mainland and Taiwan to build trust and hold talks to continue peaceful development of cross-Straits relations.

"Tsai's word games will not be accepted by the mainland. Making such ambiguous remarks will not gain Tsai or the DDP any benefits," Hu Shiqing, a researcher at the Taiwan Studies Institute of the CASS, told the Global Times.

"Cross-Straits relations will definitely face a downturn if the DDP wins," Wang said.

"China may adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward Tsai's possible victory. She should respect the efforts made by both sides for cross-Straits relations and try to push them further," Wang said.


Newspaper headline: US wary over Tsai stance

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