Exclusive: Lai likely to continue cooperating with US in latter’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, rising risk of cross-Straits confrontation: pro-reunification group leader
Published: May 21, 2024 09:33 PM
Wu Jung-yuan, chairman of the Labor Party in Taiwan, delivers a speech at a peace declaration activity on May 7, 2024. Photo: Courtesy to Wang Wu-lang

Wu Jung-yuan, chairman of the Labor Party in Taiwan, delivers a speech at a peace declaration activity on May 7, 2024. Photo: Courtesy to Wang Wu-lang

Taiwan's new regional leader and head of the separatist Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Lai Ching-te, officially assumed office on Monday. Lai is likely to continue Tsai Ing-wen's approach of cooperating with the US in its Indo-Pacific Strategy to contain the mainland and maintain a status of cross-Straits confrontation, which concerns residents in Taiwan, Wu Jung-yuan, chairman of the Labor Party and also a convener of the Cross-Straits Peace Forum, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview.

Lai’s inaugural speech on Monday, which omitted mention of the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus, has raised concerns within Taiwan island over future cross-Straits relations. 

Wu said that Lai's future approach on handling cross-Straits relations can be observed from his so-called “four-pillar plan” which he outlined in an article published in The Wall Street Journal in July 2023 - strengthening defense deterrence capabilities, prioritizing economic and supply chain security, seeking and deepening relations with “allies” and maintaining “steady and principled” dialogue with the mainland. 

Wu noted that the first three points indicate that Lai is likely to continue Tsai's approach of cooperating with the US in its Indo-Pacific Strategy to contain the mainland. The fourth point also mirrors Tsai’s rhetoric, which is to verbally express a willingness to engage in dialogue while actually refusing to acknowledge the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus as the political foundation, thus maintaining a state where cross-Straits communication and dialogue are not possible. 

Wu said that Tsai's performance over the eight years has been undoubtedly unsatisfactory. During her tenure, cross-Straits tensions sharply escalated, with then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August 2022 pushing cross-Straits situation to the brink of crisis. 

Additionally, over the past eight years, Taiwan island has experienced skyrocketing prices, making life increasingly difficult for its people, while the energy shortage issue has become more severe, said Wu. 

However, Tsai closely aligned her cross-Straits rhetoric and policy with the US strategy, which helped her earn approval from the US. Therefore, before the election, Lai continually assured the US that he would maintain Tsai's cross-Straits approach, meaning he would not aggressively pursue "de jure Taiwan independence" but would continue to cooperate with the US strategy and maintain a confrontational policy with the mainland, Wu said. 

Wu also expressed concerns that Lai would further advance this confrontational stance in cross-Straits relations - after being elected as leader, Lai publicly stated his intention to launch a campaign within Taiwan to “cleanse people's hearts,” emphasizing the promotion of “de-Sinicization” within the Taiwan military. Moreover, most of Lai’s appointed heads of administrative departments are stubborn pro-independence figures.

‘Symbolic, short-lived’ relations  

With Lai taking office, the US may deepen its “substantial relations” with Taiwan island and also mobilize its allies to develop ties with the Taiwan island. However, these relationships are usually symbolic and short-lived, as most Western countries or “pro-US” Asia-Pacific countries prioritize their relations with the mainland, Wu said. 

The “relationship” between the US and the Taiwan island, which will be constrained by China-US relations, is unlikely to  see “groundbreaking progress” with Lai becoming the Taiwan regional leader. 

Wu noted that the mainland’s current military strength is sufficient to deter US military actions in the Taiwan Straits, and its economic and diplomatic influence can also break through US containment. China has also set bottom-line principles on the Taiwan question, urging the US to honor its word to not support “Taiwan independence.”  

Although the US may not quickly change its overall strategy of using Taiwan island to contain the mainland, it is also unlikely to tolerate any adventurous move by Lai in order to avoid destabilizing US-China relations, said Wu. 

The US’ "arrangements" and "plans" for Taiwan island are relatively clear at present – selling weapons to Taiwan at several times their regular price and turning Taiwan into an ATM for American arms dealers. It also seeks to push the island to strengthen its defense readiness to resist the mainland.

Despite the Taiwan authorities' claim that US-Taiwan island relations are in their "best ever" period and bragging so-called "security assurances" from the US to Taiwan island, in reality, the US' actions are actually pushing Taiwan towards war and instigating fratricidal conflict across the Taiwan Straits. 

The development of ties between the US and Taiwan island in recent years has had a significant negative impact on Taiwan society and cross-Straits relations. 

The US has exerted stronger control over various aspects of Taiwan, extending to media propaganda and industries. Numerous Taiwan businesses have been compelled to adhere to US policies, such as the requirement for TSMC to build factories in the US. Given Taiwan's heavy reliance on foreign trade as an island economy, the aggressive control exerted by the US and its shift towards deglobalization unavoidably inflict significant repercussions on Taiwan's economic development, Wu said.

Increasing numbers of people in Taiwan are recognizing the detrimental impact of US actions on the island and the importance of maintaining stability and fostering goodwill in cross-Straits relations to protect Taiwan's economic progress.

As the US persists in tightening its grip on Taiwan for its own agenda, often at the expense of the Taiwan people, individuals on the island are gradually awakening to the true nature of US hegemony. They are coming to understand that "reunification brings prosperity, while independence leads to a dead-end, and reliance on external powers is unreliable," said Wu. 

“We must be vigilant that Lai may further cooperate with Japan in promoting so-called cultural ‘Taiwan independence’ or de-Sinicization of social and cultural transformation on the island,” said Wu. 

Attempts that Lai may make to promote “relations” with Japan include strengthening economic and trade ties or promoting military contacts through the US’ military interactions with Taiwan island, said Wu. 

Joint efforts for reunification 

After enduring the tense situation in cross-Straits relations during Tsai's eight-year tenure, exacerbated by continuous pressure from the US for Taiwan to bolster its combat readiness, security concerns in Taiwan society have steadily risen.

In the past, during the era in which there was a military standoff across the Straits, Taiwan relied on US for protection, seeking peace and security in the Taiwan Straits through American arms procurement. However, this approach represented a passive form of peace.

With the mainland's overall strength now capable of effectively balancing external forces like the US intervening in the Taiwan Straits, we have the necessary conditions for pursuing integration, reunification, and creating permanent peace across the Straits, said Wu.