A difficult situation that has been developing in East Asia in recent months was further complicated by a significant dose of uncertainty added as a result of the suspense over the first steps of Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, and the subsequent reaction of the major regional powers, i.e., China, the USA and Japan.
Let’s bear in mind that in the aftermath of the general elections held in Taiwan in January 2016, the former ruling party KMT that had remained in power for eight years suffered a crushing defeat. The presidential post has now passed to the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Ms. Tsai.
As we approach the date of her inauguration, scheduled for May 20 of this year, one could literally feel the growing unease of the main concerned party (the PRC) over the possible consequences of this event. This nervousness comes through in the publications of Chinese experts, as well as the statements of officials on various occasions related to Taiwan.
For the first time since 2008, when the Kuomintang party returned to power after an eight year gap, there is a real threat to the fragile stability in the Taiwan Strait, to Beijing’s relations with Taipei and Washington, who supports Taiwan. For the Chinese leadership a key indicator of the future self-determination of Taiwan in the international arena will be the attitude of the new president to the so-called “1992 Consensus”.
This is the agreement reached in 1992 between the then leadership of the Kuomintang government in Taiwan and China stating that in the international arena there is only “one China”. Yet the Kuomintang has always tried to avoid the question of who actually represents “one China.”
The public confirmation of compliance with “Consensus 1992” by the Kuomintang leaders left the Chinese leadership with leeway to maneuver in their relations with Taiwan. This space was reduced almost to zero in the period 2000-2008, when the DPP was in power, and its then-leader Chen Shui-bian, ignoring the “1992 Consensus”, set a course for achieving full statehood of Taiwan.
In 2005 China adopted a law on the possible “not necessarily peaceful” solution of the Taiwan issue as a response to the attempts of Chen Shui-bian to achieve de jure the independence of the island.
His successor as leader of the DPP, Tsai Ing-wen, has avoided direct answers to the question (many times asked by journalists) on her position towards the “1992 consensus”. Meanwhile, in late April the Chinese government circles felt it necessary to point out that the document is “the cornerstone of the peaceful development” of the situation in the Taiwan Strait. Clear warnings are being sent to supporters of Taiwanese “independence” and of removing China from its history, and the current political and cultural life of the Taiwanese people. Transparent hints are being made that the maintenance (not to mention further development) of Taiwan’s lucrative economic relations with the “mainland” will only be possible if all the aspects of the “1992 Consensus” are respected.
Chinese experts’ comments on this kind of official statement explicitly point at the prospect of “a rollback in the cross-strait ties” ().
Washington’s emergence from a long idleness in the Taiwanese matters coinciding with the general elections in Taiwan also casts clouds over situation. I am referring to the decision to sell a new batch of US arms worth $1.8 billion to Taiwan. Last time such a decision was back in late 2008 by the Bush administration a few months before the handover of power to Barack Obama.
An extremely important indication of US activation in this problem was the confirmation of the validity of the so-called “Reagan’s six assurances”, adopted on April 22 of this year on a bipartisan basis by the Committee for Foreign Policy of the House of Representatives. It concerns the legislative initiative aimed at fixing the position of the US on six main points of the Taiwanese problem that was proposed in 1982 by the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
In fact, that document only specified the main provisions of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act 1979 (TRA 1979), which was adopted three years earlier in the United States immediately after the establishment of full diplomatic relations with China.
Both the TRA in 1979 and its specification of 1982 were intended to demonstrate to all “stakeholders” that following the termination of official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the US in any case would not leave the island one-on-one with the “mainland”. This is evidenced at least by the following items from the above-mentioned six –
- The United States will not set a date for termination of arms sales to Taiwan
- The United States will not consult with China in advance before making decisions about United States arms sales to Taiwan
- The United States alter its position about the sovereignty of Taiwan which was, that the question was one to be decided peacefully by the Chinese themselves, and would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with China.
These formulations make illusory (at least in the short term) any attempts to solve the key foreign policy issue of “restoring the unity of the nation” (including using “not necessarily peaceful methods”) by the “mainland”. Unless, of course, the Taiwanese themselves would want to take part in resolving it.
But so far, the islanders show no such inclination, and that was once again evidenced by the results of the last election.
The sale of another batch of US arms to Taiwan as well as the restatement of “Reagan’s six assurances” on April 22 this year by the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs of the United States House of Representatives are both acts of support for the new leadership of Taiwan.
They have prompted a predictably negative response in China and amplified the problem of what first steps Tsai Ing-wen should take after her formal assumption of office as President of Taiwan.
Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”