Showdown unlikely in Tsai’s 2nd term: expert

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/1/15 20:33:40

Wang Zaixi Photo: Li Hao/GT

Douglas Paal Photo: Li Hao/GT

Editor's Note:

Taiwan regional election concluded Saturday with Tsai Ing-wen being re-elected the leader of the island. How should Beijing ensure the "one-China" principle is upheld and continue to hold the initiative in guiding cross-Straits relations? The Global Times (GT) invited mainland expert Wang Zaixi (Wang), former deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, and Douglas Paal (Paal), vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace of the US, to comment on these issues.

GT: How do you think future cross-Straits ties would develop? 

Tsai's re-election means the relationship across the straits would be fully caught in a stalemate. There is no more possibility in the upcoming four years to improve it. The Chinese mainland and Taiwan would go through a period of cold confrontation. 

Since Tsai represents the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), she will govern the island according to DPP's guidelines, which include promoting Taiwan secession. During her first term in office, Tsai refused to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus or the "one-China" principle. She will hardly change her stance after winning the second term. 

But I don't think the two sides across the straits would head toward a showdown. China's reunification is a long process yet the initiative is in the hands of the Chinese mainland. Be it the size of land, population, GDP, military or technological strength, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are not on the same level. 

Even if Tsai won't give up her pro-secession banner and I assume she will continue to promote "de-sinicization," striving to lead Taiwan further away from the mainland, she does not dare to do so too fast or too unscrupulously, given the Anti-Secession Law and the bottom lines included in it. That's why in her press conference after the re-election, she emphasized, "my commitment to peaceful, stable cross-Straits relations remains unchanged." Her dream is to promote Taiwan secession under stable ties with the mainland one small step at a time. In doing so hastily, she will meet the fate of her predecessor Chen Shui-bian. 

Therefore, cross-Straits relations can hardly be improved, but Tsai dare not go too far. 

GT: Some observers have been lately describing cross-Straits ties with the word "decouple," which is often used to talk about recent China-US relations. Do you think there is any chance of decoupling between the two sides? 

Relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, and ties between China and the US, are completely different in nature. Although the two sides across the Taiwan Straits have not realized reunification in over 70 years, this has not changed a bit the fact that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. 

That being said, there is no way for the two sides across the Straits to decouple. Regardless of which party is in power, be it the DPP or the Kuomintang (KMT), the leader would face the same issue. The island of Taiwan cannot leave the mainland. 

Then why there are still many people on the island who are clamoring for Taiwan secession? This is because the DPP's strategy has been demonizing the Chinese mainland and the Communist Party of China to win more votes. It has been hyping up that Taiwan will have no democracy or freedom after reunification, making young Taiwan people afraid of the mainland. Unfortunately, radical protests broke out in Hong Kong before the Taiwan election, which have later been utilized by the DPP. 

It is undeniable that the young people of Taiwan are having a weakening sentiment over the Chinese nation. It is not the young people to be blamed. Over the past two decades, Taiwan's textbooks have completely become pro-secession materials, which define China as a foreign country, poetry of the Tang and Song Dynasty as foreign literature. 

Tsai knows she cannot realize political secession or de facto secession, so she is now promoting cultural secession.

GT: How should the Chinese mainland cope with the situation in Taiwan?

To begin with, we can explore the potential of using the internet such as WeMedia in this regard, to clarify the consequences of Taiwan secession as well as long-term benefits that reunification can bring to Taiwan people.

Second, close contacts are needed, especially people-to-people exchanges. We should provide more chances for young Taiwan people to study, get medical treatment, and find jobs on the mainland and opportunities for mainlanders to visit Taiwan. 

Third, Chinese culture is an important link between compatriots on both sides of the straits. I have noticed that pro-secession forces have been thinking hard about ways to realize Taiwan secession culturally. We should now consider how to carry forward and promote Chinese culture on the island. 

Fourth, economic integration is vital. When economic interests across the straits are inextricably interwoven with each other, secession will become more difficult. 

Fifth, military deterrence against pro-secession forces in Taiwan is necessary. In recent years, we often witness aircraft carriers passing through the straits and fighter jets flying around the island. I think this is helpful. It can warn and prevent the Taiwan separatists from going too far.

GT: On Chinese internet, the voices supporting reunification through military means are on the rise. What do you think about this option against the current backdrop?

Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once noted, China adheres to seeking the solution to the Taiwan question by peaceful means, but it has never given up the possibility of using non-peaceful means, China cannot make such a commitment. Later, Deng's philosophy was more frequently summarized into "peaceful reunification," while not giving up the use of force was mentioned relatively rarely for some time. 

Peaceful reunification is a goal China has been striving for. It is an option, but not the only option. Peaceful reunification requires coordination from both sides. Yet the DPP refuses to even recognize the "one-China" principle, then how can it possibly negotiate with the Chinese mainland over peaceful reunification? 

There is a worrying trend in Taiwan today. Pro-secession forces have grown stronger and have become the ruling party from being an opposition force. Under such circumstances, while adhering to the policy of peaceful reunification, China must also be prepared to resolve this issue through non-peaceful means as a last resort. This is the reason why China made the Anti-Secession Law.

GT: How do you evaluate the performance of KMT nowadays? 

From the perspective of the latest result of Taiwan election, the KMT has not lost its base. 

Then why did Tsai win a landslide victory in the end? This is because the majority of moderate voters and members of small parties, which have no "presidential" candidates, cast their votes for Tsai. The KMT lost the support of the moderate middle. 

The KMT recognizes the 1992 Consensus and opposes Taiwan secession. However, the party is now facing severe challenges. 

It is lack of unity. During the election campaign over the past year, the KMT failed to integrate itself until its final campaign rally on January 9. How can it win the fight if it is spending too much time and energy on uniting the team?

The KMT is aging, be its leadership team, party members or voters. It can no longer attract the youth any more. This is fatal. Without young people in the team, the party is losing its vitality. 

More importantly, the KMT has lost its direction. In terms of cross-Straits ties, it said nothing else other than repeating "there is but one China in the world, with each side having its own interpretation for it" during the campaign. A political party that has no specific ideal, no goal, and no guidelines, will naturally have no way out. 

I still believe that the KMT, as an anti-secession force on the island of Taiwan, will exist for a long time in the future. However, if it hopes to stage a comeback, drastic reforms must be carried out. 

GT: Some Chinese netizens think previous mainland's preferential policies toward Taiwan proved to be inefficient in winning the hearts of the people of Taiwan. Do you think those policies should continue?

Those policies have to be continued. The attempt to win the hearts and minds of people should not be treated as utilitarian business. 

Uniting people and gaining support is supposed to be the Communist Party of China's special skill. But in Taiwan, the skill has not been efficient. I think we need to reflect on, adjust our methods and mind-set, and not to give up just because the work is difficult. 

GT: The US intervention played a vital role in DPP's victory and it seems Washington will keep using Taiwan as a pawn to contain China amid escalating Beijing-Washington tensions. Do you think the US may one day break the "one-China" policy? 

I think US President Donald Trump is already gradually breaking the policy. 

In December 2016, when then president-elect Trump had not yet been inaugurated, he took a phone call from Tsai and congratulated her on becoming "president." This is a sensitive political issue because the US and Taiwan are not supposed to have any official relationship. 

After Trump assumed office, US Congress has passed a series of Taiwan-related laws. In 2016, the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances were reaffirmed as US policy toward Taiwan in a resolution passed by the US Senate. The Taiwan Relations Act states that the US "shall provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character… enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capacity." This is a complete violation of the "one-China" policy. The Six Assurances, issued by former US president Ronald Reagan in 1982, is more absurd. It states that the US would not consult with China in advance over US arms sales to Taiwan, and the US would not set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan. Worse, it also claims the US would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. Previously, these articles were informal assurance. But the current US administration wrote it into a formal resolution in black and white. 

Later, US Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages visits between the US and Taiwan at all levels; Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019, which states the US "should conduct regular sales and transfers of defense articles to Taiwan;" and the National Defense Authorization Act, which encourages establishing "high-level, interagency" cybersecurity working group with Taiwan.

The four legislations completely challenged the bottom line of the "one-China" principle, openly interfering in China's domestic affairs. Although there are three China-US joint communiqués, the US believes its own domestic law outweighs international treaties. In this sense, how do you think of whether the US has broken through the "one-China" policy?

To try to contain China's development and peaceful rise, the US will play its Taiwan card more frequently in the years to come. In doing so, it will cost Washington little, but can create quite a few disturbances in China. 

When it comes to Taiwan election this time, I still believe there is no need to care too much about who wins and who loses. Electoral pendulum is often observed in Taiwan elections. That Tsai secured a second term does not mean the DPP has won the heart of Taiwan people. During Tsai's first term in office, she had no political achievements on social governance. She won because the KMT was facing severe internal problems. 

Yet the DPP is unskilled in governing the island. Its shortcomings will be exposed in the years to come and people will know better. Taiwan's nine-in-one local election is an example. Personally, I think the Taiwan People's Party and its chairman Ko Wen-je will be a promising candidate in the 2024 Taiwan regional leadership election. 

GT: There have been frequent high-level interactions between the US and the island of Taiwan since President Donald Trump took office. In Tsai's second term of office, will the US continue its efforts to support Taiwan? Will there be some major changes in US policies for the island?

It's always possible that there will be major changes, but my belief is that the US will slowly try to increase the cooperation between the US and Taiwan in both formal and informal ways, because Taiwan is viewed favorably politically in the US because of its political system and successful democracy, and also because it's seen as a partner in stabilizing Asia-Pacific at a time when China's rise is destabilizing the region in the views of the US.  

GT: During Tsai's second term of office, do you think she will break the status quo? 

I think she's very careful in her administration, not just in the first term, but I expect her to be as careful in her second term. 

The first reason is that's her character. She is a very cautious person. She doesn't do things rashly. 

Second, why would she need to do that? She has been re-elected. There is no more election coming. So she doesn't have to take dramatic steps to protect her political position. She is very secure.

Third, the people around her who might want to push for Taiwan independence or manifestations toward Taiwan independence are not in charge. She will be in charge. So I I'm not very worried about Taiwan being a source of instability in the triangle of US-Taiwan-Chinese relations. 

GT: You once reminded Taiwan that it should not spring a surprise. Amid tensions between the Chinese mainland and the US, what should Taiwan do to avoid drawing fire? 

Taiwan has always done more poorly economically and otherwise when the US and the Chinese mainland have tensions. The room is smaller. So I think Taiwan would like to see that the US and the Chinese mainland stabilize their relationship. It is not looking for worsening relations, but that is not the direction we are going in now. So Taiwan has to be very careful to protect its own interests as the US and the Chinese mainland pursue very different agendas in the Asia-Pacific region. 

By the way, I don't think Taiwan is being a troublemaker or springing surprises. Its representation in Washington is very conscious about preventing surprises and informing the US in advance of what Taiwan plans to do. The current mechanism is working quite well. 

GT: Will China and the US get into a military conflict because of Taiwan? 

It's not impossible, but I think the US has no interest in getting into a conflict over Taiwan. I think China has much bigger issues. It has a long-term interest in reunification, but that's a long-term interest, not a short-term interest. So on the present horizon, I don't see sources of direct conflict over Taiwan. But accidents can happen. Someday some things might take place that would then escalate tensions very dramatically. Hopefully the kind of mechanisms that are in place now will prevent that from happening. 

Part of this could help a lot if China would accept more informal but effective communications with the Tsai government - the way it did with the Ma Ying-jeou government previously - that would help to prevent surprises and frictions from getting out of hand. 

GT: If such clashes do happen, to what extent do you think the US is willing to pay a military price for the island of Taiwan?

The US does not want to pay a military price for Taiwan. But if it must, to defend its interests and the Taiwan Relations Act requirements to provide for the self-defense of Taiwan, it will.

And there's a very strong determination in the American Congress, I think, in the administration as well, to do what's necessary to protect Taiwan. Hopefully we will never get to that point, because the Chinese mainland, the US and Taipei will all understand there are some things you do not do, because they will force the other parties to conflict. And we will try to avoid doing that. 

GT: A phase one trade deal is expected to be signed between the US and China. How will the trade war develop? 

I think this is like a ceasefire. It's like the ceasefire in Korea in 1953. The war will not end, but it will not be a shooting war in the economic world for the next year while the US goes through its elections and we all get ready for whatever follows after our elections in November.

GT: Do you think the two biggest economies will decouple? 

I think decoupling across the board is not possible. Decoupling in the world of science and technology is. China already started to decouple by closing the internet and preventing Google, Facebook, the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal from operating in China. So it started in China and it's probably going to continue in these sensitive areas. 

But broader decoupling is very hard. And even in the world of science and technology, in academic research and fundamental research, it's very hard to draw lines between good research in Chinese universities and good research in Western universities. 

GT: How will the 2020 US elections affect China-US relations?

China-US relations are not an issue in the American election right now, and I don't think they will be, unless something surprising happens. People are more interested in our domestic economic condition and want to see progress of medical care, social security, education, and issues of that nature. 

I think there is a fairly broad consensus among both American political parties that the US and China need to go through a period of readjustment of our relationship. Democrats might disagree about the way Trump's making his adjustments of policy, but I don't think they disagree with the need for adjustment. 

GT: You said in 2013 that the future 10 years will see whether the US and China will coexist peacefully or clash. So how do you evaluate the bilateral ties in the previous years and how do you see the future relations? 

By moving toward greater friction, I still think that the consequences of conflict between the US and China are so great that neither the leadership in the US nor the leadership in China would be willing to take that risk. 

Even in the US where there is a very strong wave of criticism of Chinese behavior and activity, you have noticed recently that the practical suggestions from people who would be policymakers and future governments are becoming more moderate and reasonable. They too recognize that the conflict between the US and China would be a devastation for the 21st century. 

GT: You once said that it is misjudgment that leads to conflicts between China and the US. How can the two countries avoid misjudgment? 

I think the best way is for the two sides to speak together in detail on many issues across the board. Not talking to each other is very unhelpful and is the fastest way to get to misjudgment. But careful and patient listening to the other side's comments and then offering one's own comments on what that side has to say is a far better way of avoiding misjudgments. 

We've got frictions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The US and China are developing nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities. We've got cyber and space mechanisms now. All of these would be good topics for discussion. 

Plus humanitarian issues like, for example, managing the current outbreak in Wuhan with cooperation from the US CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] or National Institutes of Health might help contain such disease. 

And we have just announced that there will be a continuing economic dialogue. I think that is an important feature as well. 

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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