- Taiwan's presidential election last Saturday was
widely seen as a referendum on future ties with
China, with President Ma Ying-jeou's victory
viewed by some as affirmation of a semi-official
consensus that states that both mainland China and
Taiwan belong to one China.
campaigning, a major policy debate between Ma and
his major challenger, Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of
the anti-unification Democratic Progressive Party
(DPP), was whether Taipei should recognize the
1992 Consensus. The consensus, reached at a
meeting between semi-official representatives in
1992, states that there is only one China - but
with each side holding different definitions.
Tsai, squarely denying the existence of
the 1992 Consensus, insisted that the island's
future should be decided only by the
Taiwanese people. However,
Ma repeatedly stated in his first four-year term
that the consensus was a basis on which Taiwan
could advance economic ties and people-to-people
exchanges with the mainland.
responded to Tsai's comments with a warning that
denial of the consensus would jeopardize
cross-strait relations, whoever became president.
Likely in fear that Tsai's position would impact
on an economy that has become increasingly reliant
on the mainland market, Taiwanese tycoons - even
former staunch supporters of the DPP - stepped out
in support of Ma.
However, while Ma's
re-election on Saturday was widely seen as
vindication of his cross-straits policy, he still
faces the challenges of enhancing Taiwan's
prosperity without losing autonomy or sovereignty.
In a speech given shortly after his
re-election, Ma promised to seek Taiwan's entry
into international economic and cultural
organizations from which it is now excluded due to
Beijing's opposition, and to protect Taiwan's
sovereignty, security and "the dignity of the
However, if both sides
agree they belong to one China, there would
eventually need to be political talks on what is
meant by this. This could mean a road map towards
Beijing's position on the
1992 Consensus is that there is one, undivided
sovereignty of China and that China is the sole
legitimate representative of that sovereignty.
Taiwan's position is that there is one, undivided
sovereignty of China, and that Taiwan is the sole
legitimate representative of that sovereignty
"There are already signs that Beijing
intends to push for political dialogue," said
Bonnie Glaser, senior fellow at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington,
"Ma raised the possibility during the campaign and
his support in the polls dipped ... Ma should have
concluded that the majority of Taiwan's people,
while they support his cross-strait policies, are
reluctant to seek a political modus vivendi with
Analysts believe Beijing
hopes Ma would return economic favors by agreeing
to start political negotiations before Chinese
President Hu Jintao steps down in autumn of this
year. But it remains to be seen if Ma will resist
Beijing's Taiwan Affairs
Office issued a statement shortly after the
election results came out saying that developing
peaceful ties across the Taiwan Strait had proved
to be a correct track which had won the support of
a majority of Taiwanese over the past four years.
A spokesman for the office said it was willing to
work with different sectors in Taiwan to
strengthen cross-strait ties based on the 1992
Consensus and opposing Taiwanese independence.
Beijing and Taipei agreed to make progress
in cross-Strait relations by starting with "easy"
economic issues and eventually shifting to
"difficult" political ones. Both sides have signed
16 agreements, including the landmark Economic
Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), since May
2008 when Ma started his first presidential term.
Negotiations slowed before the election due to
disagreements on investment protection, dispute
settlement and liberalization of trade in goods
Negotiating a peace agreement
is one of "six points" the Chinese president
introduced as blueprint for cross-strait relations
in December 2008. The others were a one
strengthening of commercial ties, promotion of
personal exchanges, stressing of common cultural
links and allowing Taiwan's "reasonable"
participation in international organizations and a
firm adherence to the "one China" principle.
After the ECFA was signed, Beijing started
pushing for a cross-strait cultural exchange
agreement, hoping to shape a Chinese identity
among the Taiwanese. The Ma administration,
understanding the issue's sensibility, has tried
to delay talks on matter with different excuses.
But analysts believe Taipei would not be able to
avoid signing a cultural exchange pact in the next
Furthermore, analysts in
Beijing and Taipei believe the possibility of
opening the cross-Strait political dialogue during
Ma's second four-year term can't be entirely ruled
"Beijing probably can't be disturbed
by Taiwan's regime change again in 2016. For the
concern, they would seek to settle some kind of
framework (that both parties need to follow),"
said Chang Wu-ueh, professor of the Graduate
Institute of China Studies at Taiwan's Tamkang
Zhu Weidong, deputy director
of the Institute of Taiwan Studies under the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told
media that both sides won't be able to avoid the
cross-strait political dialogue in the next four
years. Liu Zhen, professor of Tsinghua
University's School of Marxism, suggested that
both sides might launch an official representative
office in the other side's territory in the next
Ma has reiterated that his
administration's cross-Strait policy focuses on
"three Nos" - seeking no unification (with China),
no independence (for Taiwan) and no violence (on
the Strait), but he has failed to elaborate on how
he can honor these promises while continuing to
seek closer ties with China.
raised concerns that Taipei is ignoring Beijing's
clear strategy, which is a push for unification.
"Beijing could now threaten to cut off all the
established economic exchanges should Taipei
refuse to conduct political dialogue," said a
former Taiwanese cross-strait negotiator who spoke
under the condition of anonymity.
administration is ill-prepared for negotiations
with China on various issues. Taiwan set up two
bodies in 1990s, the cabinet-level Mainland
Affairs Council and the semi-official Strait
Exchange Foundation, to engage in negotiations
with China. But unlike Beijing, Taiwan has been
sending non-professionally trained civil servants
to conduct negotiations with China, according to
former cross-Strait negotiators.
servants were only briefly informed about the
talks shortly before they were asked to fly to
Beijing," said one former official.
reluctance to work with the opposition DPP is also
considered an issue.
During her campaign,
Tsai asked why Ma and his KMT found it easier to
deal with the Chinese Communist Party than
domestic political parties. Taiwan's local media,
also, have urged Ma to use the opposition party
and the legislature as leverage or brakes for the
cross-strait ties in the past four years.
With mutual trust between Beijing and
Taipei remains relatively weak, any rush to
political talk might instead end up jeopardizing
the past four year's accomplishments.
would fear that if the two sides rushed into
negotiations on political and security questions,
they would soon hit an impasse," Richard Bush,
senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and
Director of its Center for Northeast Asian Policy
Studies, said in a speech on the elections on
Yvonne Su is a
freelance journalist based in Beijing.
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