Taiwan’s new government must tread lightly

Taiwan’s new government must tread lightly

Recently, Beijing has warned Taiwan about the passage of a proposed law that could jeopardise the fragile balance between the two sides. While President-elect Tsai will take office in less than a month, the CCP remains concerned about the future of Cross-Strait relations.

Last Month, during his address to the Shanghai delegates at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, President Xi highlighted China’s resolution to contain Taiwan’s secessionist desires, warning Taipei to adhere to the 1992 Consensus; a fundamental pillar for the advancement of the peaceful development of the Cross-Strait relations. President Xi also stressed the PRC’s commitment to upholding national integrity at any costs, expressing his willingness to bolster positive political and economic exchanges between the two sides, on the condition that Taipei must accept the principle that Taiwan belongs to the mainland and will eventually be reunited.

Cross-Strait relations: Same bed, different dreams

Beijing has never renounced the use of military force to impose its sovereignty over Taiwan and its aspiration to reunite Taiwan under the leadership of the CCP remains the ultimate goal to mark the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War.

Until the end of martial law in July 1987 and de facto authoritarian rule that had characterised Taiwan’s political landscape for 38 years, the issue of independence was considered a taboo topic by the Kuomintang (KMT) leadership. Yet, marked political and socioeconomic changes in Taiwan during the late 1980’s and 1990’s encouraged the debate over the future role of Taiwan, unveiling the chance to establish a peaceful dialogue with the PRC and mitigate Taipei’s growing international isolation.

Last summer, CCTV showed controversial footage from a military drill, portraying a simulated assault of a building resembling Taiwan’s Presidential Office, proving Beijing’s military threat is not a hazardous bluff, especially considering China’s rapid military growth and modernization. In addition, the preparation for a possible invasion of Taiwan as the method for reunification would represent a valuable test for China to assess Washington’s determination to protect its core interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the 1979 Taiwan Relation Act, Washington is committed to providing arms and defence equipment to Taiwan, to maintain the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan. It also considers any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the regional stability and a great concern for the U.S.

While Washington strongly adheres to the principle of self-determination, it is not legally obligated to defend the island in the event of an invasion as expected by a normal defence treaty. Certainly, the CCP is aware of the existence of a grey zone with regards to how Washington would react to a military event following a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan.

Taiwan and China: Old grudges, new enemies

Growing fears over China’s military expansion and military assertiveness, coupled with renewed claims from Beijing concerning the inevitable reunification of the renegade province to the mainland, remain far from the only concerns for Taiwanese public opinion. Under the Ma Administration, a new détente with the PRC, based on the expansion of trade and economic partnerships marked a new phase of dialogue between the two sides, culminating with the historical meeting between President Ma and President Xi in Singapore on November 2015.

On the other hand, President Ma’s Cross-Strait strategy, based on a more proactive engagement based on economic integration with the PRC, provoked student mobilisation. These protests culminated in the occupation of Taiwan’s parliament by the Sunflower Movement in 2014. These large-scale protests have unveiled civil society’s rising concern about Beijing’s economic and political penetration. Mainland economic and political ties are seen as a potential threat to Taiwan’s democracy and are a source of tensions within Taiwan’s political sphere.

Beijing has stressed its commitment to positive relations, with the aim of facilitating a future Cross-Strait reunification. But the harsh repression of Hong Kong protesters in September 2014 has stoked concerns over the CCP’s willingness to adhere to promises granting a special level of autonomy to Taiwan based on the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model, as proposed by President Xi in 2014.

The outcome of Taiwan’s recent legislative elections on January 16th, 2016, marked a decisive defeat for the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) forming government. This result is seen as a rebuke of KMT President Ma’s approach to the mainland.

Despite, the fall from power of China’s civil rival, the KMT, China’s relations with the DPP have remained tense since 2000, when former president Chan Shui-bian expressed his full commitment to Taiwanese independence. Any follow through by the government-to-be would undoubtedly trigger an iron-fisted response from Beijing in line with Article 8 of the Anti-Secession Law that clearly states that the PRC will employ all non-peaceful means to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial rights.

The Tsai administration recognises the importance of the 1992 Consensus. Yet preserving Taiwan’s constitutional order, upholding of its freedoms and democracy, and maintaining regional stability and the status-quo in Cross-Strait relations remain fundamental prerequisites for the development of fruitful relations between the two sides.

While President-elect Tsai has pledged her commitment to maintaining the status quo, Beijing has recently warned Taipei over the passage of a proposed law that would reshape the governing relations between the two sides. The Tsai administration has shown caution in dealing with Beijing, despite the CCP’s intrusion into Taiwan’s political landscape, but has not written off the possibility that tensions will increase once again.

Categories: Asia Pacific, Security

About Author

Daniele Ermito

Daniele Ermito is a London-based analyst. He is also a GRI analyst and regular contributor for the Foreign Policy Association, where he writes mostly on the Koreas ‘blog. He holds a BA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of Bologna and a MSc in Asian Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies. His areas of research include Northeast Asia security, Japanese politics and Chinese foreign policy. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielRmito.