12.06.2015 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Taiwan is Awaiting the Presidential Election

107104In the recent years Taiwan has rarely been mentioned in analytical reports evaluating the conditions and situation of the current world order in the “Balkans”, i.e. in that rather narrow strip of sea that extends from the Korean Peninsula to the South China Sea (SCS).

Analysts have “forgotten” about Taiwan, located between the “popular” areas of this highly sensitive band (i.e., between the islands of the Senkaku / Diaoyu and SCS), when Ma Ying-jeou, the leader of the Kuomintang party, the oldest in modern history of China, was elected the president of the island republic.

He became the next leader after Chen Shui-bian, who held the presidency from 2000 and represented the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), more or less definitely advocating the sovereignty of Taiwan de jure.

These claims of the DPP have caused dangerous complications in relations between Taiwan and the “Mainland”, that is, the People’s Republic of China who has positioned itself on the international scene as a single state to be called “China” today.

As for Taiwan, depending on the situation in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing refers to it as either the “renegade province” (which means any measures, and even power interventions are permissible in relation to this province) or the “daughter who got lost” (who needs to be helped to return to the bosom of the mother country).

The potential danger of this situation is an implicit (but still significant) involvement of the leading world player – the USA, whose goals in the context of Taiwan issue (however never publicly announced) are directly the opposite to the goals of China.

Washington sticks to the following position about the relations “between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait” (recorded as early as 1979 in the form of a special law), and this position is the same as on the territorial problems with Japan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and it sounds as: argue “in a benevolent atmosphere,” as much as necessary but, please, “hands-off” which means not only without the of the military forces cannot be used, but no pressure of any kind (e.g., economic) can be put to the opponent.

This strategy makes China’s key political goal of “restoring the unity of the nation” impossible to be implemented. In other words, China’s hypothetical intention to solve the main problem of the state “at any cost” is likely to lead to the direct military confrontation with the United States.

At the same time this position dramatically simplifies for the USA the solution of the major strategic objective: preventing the attempts of the fast-growing Chinese marine forces to extend to the Pacific Ocean beyond the limits of the so-called “first line of the island.”

When in 2008, the Kuomintang party took over in Taiwan, in contrast to DPP who always stood for a united and indivisible China, the direct US-China confrontation in the Taiwan Strait was postponed.

The said position of Kuomintang made it possible to reach the so-called “Consensus 1992″ in 1992 between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. According to the “1992 Consensus”, in the international arena there is only a “one and single” China.

At the same time, each of the parties still understands this term in its own way, which significantly eliminates the practical importance of the document.

In fact, the policy objective of Ma Ying-jeou, despite the public rejection of the state registration of Taiwan independence de jure and adherence to the “1992 Consensus”, is to extend “indefinitely” the current de facto independence.

Ma Ying-jeou adheres to the concept of “Three No” (to international and legal independence of Taiwan, to consolidation with China, and to the use of force to resolve the problems in bilateral relations) that virtually eliminates the significance of his recognition of the “1992 Consensus.” But nevertheless it is not a complete negations as was the case with President Chen Shui-bian.

With Kuomintang party in office the problems remain: what should be the format of maintaining bilateral relations.  between the China and Taiwan leadership communicate mainly through formal non-state actors. For the Taiwanese people such a person is Ma Ying-jeou elected the President of the Republic of China, and for the Chinese – who is he? How did Beijing congratulate him after the re-election in 2012?

How to describe Taiwan in the list of participants of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), one of the most important financial and political projects in Beijing, aimed at strengthening the position in the fight against the United States for influence in the countries of the Asian continent?

Because of this problem Taiwan’s membership in the ABII is still uncertain. Thus Taiwan leadership, taking into account the negative public mood, is showing the wonders of tightrope walking with the application for participation in the bank.

Today’s Taiwan leadership is ready to go forward to promote profitable economic relations with the “Mainland.” But there are limits to Kuomintang’s compliance.

In particular, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry “expressed regret” in connection with inclusion of provisions in the final documents adopted during the recent visit of Xi Jinping to Belarus, that have been evaluated in Taipei as adversely affecting itsright to participate in international organizations.

However, the adherence to the “decorum” in relations with China, allowing Beijing to “save face” (which is of particular importance in the eastern countries), offers a variety of benefits to Kuomintang Taiwan from the relations with the economy which globally ranks second.

But the fact is that the upcoming next presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2016 almost certainly see Tsai Ing-wen win, a nice lady in all aspects.

However, in China her “pleasant” qualities are hardly appreciated because she is the current leader of the DPP, the source of a headache in Beijing. DPP refuses (at least so far) to comply with the above-mentioned “decorum” and, in particular, does not wish to know anything about the “1992 Consensus.”

Tsai Ing-wen already awoke concerns for the “Mainland” capital back in 2012, when she finished close behind Ma Ying-jeou in the regular presidential elections in 2012 (45.6% vs. 51.6% for the current president).

On May 31st, Mrs. Tsai started the unprecedented duration of a 12-day tour of the United States, during which she met with representatives of the American public, economic and political elite, as well as the current administration and the US Congress.

What is noteworthy are the few theses that were formulated during Tsai Ing-wen’s visit and what she chose not to say. First, she refused to answer questions about her attitude to the “1992 Consensus.”

Secondly, she promised that if she came into power, the DPP’s new government “will contribute to maintaining peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait.

Third, Tsai Ing-wen positioned herself as a supporter of the existing relations between Taiwan and China, including through the development of military cooperation with the United States and increase funding of their own defense.

Fourth, she said quite complimentary words to the leader Xi Jinping and looked forward to his “understanding of the realities of Taiwan.”

It is difficult to draw any definite conclusions on this rather controversial thesis about the possible future political course of the potential president of Taiwan.

What seems interesting are the seemingly restrained comments of the Ambassador of China on Tsai Ing-wen’s tour through the United States, saying that she “should pass the “test” of 1.3 billion Chinese“.

We can only hope that after the presidential elections, in analytical texts devoted to the situation in today’s “Balkans”, the word “Taiwan” will not again be referred through a comma with words such as “Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands” and “South China Sea”.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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