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Can Tsai Ing-wen Use the Cross-Strait Issue to Control Public Opinion?

Mar 22, 2019
  • Chen Pingping

    Deputy director of the Research Center for Maritime Economy

On January 2nd this year, after President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at a gathering to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” that called for Chinese unification, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait set off to explore the two-system solution to the Taiwan question. For campaign purposes, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities used the opportunity of Xi’s speech to intentionally create the illusion of tension between the two sides of the Strait. However, the DPP’s wishful thinking will come to nothing, because warming cross-Strait relations is the overall trend and the general appeal of the people on both sides of the Strait.

Recently, Tsai Ing-wen’s authorities have put a lot of time and effort into the cross-Strait issue. First, Tsai’s authorities refused to abide by or recognize the 1992 Consensus that enshrined the “One China Principle.” Even more, they intentionally confused the 1992 Consensus with the “One Country, Two Systems” principle in an attempt to blame the mainland for changing the status quo of the two sides. Second, they encouraged the DPP to launch a new resolution on cross-Strait policy. In addition, they condoned Taiwan independence advocates, with former DPP premier Lai Ching-te publicly declaring that Taiwan needs a new constitution. Third, they fast-tracked regulatory amendments governing relations between the people across the Strait, joined a so-called defense mechanism, and set a high threshold for signing a peace agreement between the two sides. Fourth, they hyped up the military threat from the Chinese mainland, a high-profile act intended to cater to the United States and Japan and, in this way, argue that there is a greater need for US weapons. They purchased 66 F-16V fighter jets from the United States in order to use force to reject reunification. Fifth, they convened a so-called national security conference to propose seven guiding principles opposing the two-system solution to the Taiwan question, proposing a code of conduct aimed at countering the mainland in terms of cross-Strait ties, democracy and the rule of law, economic affairs, “diplomatic affairs,” security, national defense, and social affairs.

Manipulating the cross-Strait issue and creating tension across the Taiwan Strait is a common tactic used by the DPP to deal with poor election results and weak support, as well as to divert attention away from their incompetent governance. The intention behind this is self-evident: First, it is an attempt to maintain power by attacking the Kuomintang (KMT) Party, which adheres to the 1992 Consensus, and manipulating public opinion. Second, by playing up the military threat posed by mainland China, they have created a hostile atmosphere on both sides of the Strait, and they are using so-called defenders of Taiwan’s sovereignty and security as agents to try to reverse the DPP’s downward trend in approval and to influence elections. Third, they are roping in the United States and Japan to confront the mainland and support Taiwan independence. Fourth, they are preparing public opinion and creating made-up theories to support possible constitutional amendments in the future.

President Xi Jinping’s speech opened a new future-oriented, unified form of democratic consultation on cross-Strait relations, marking the development of cross-Strait relations for a new era. Since the Tsai Ing-wen administration took office, it has put up a facade of maintaining the status quo, while actually blocking cross-Strait exchanges and undermining the prospect of peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, as it seeks to pursue Taiwan independence. But people with lofty ideals on the island and throughout the international community are sick and tired of the DPP’s decades-long “fear of the mainland” tactics. First, the DPP continues to adopt a strategy of trying to win public sympathy with its mainland-bashing. Tsai Ing-wen’s low approval ratings, and her party’s poor showing in recent legislative by-elections show the weakness of this approach heading into the next major electoral test, as Tsai declares her intent to run for re-election in 2020. This failure indicates that the Taiwanese people are tired of the DPP’s electoral routine that appeals to ideology, and they hope to truly maintain the status quo of peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. Second, since the Trump administration took office, America’s Taiwan policy has not changed substantially on core issues such as the “One China principle” and referendums on Taiwan independence, although there have been some bills that aim to support the Taiwan authorities. This can be seen from the recent statement by the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which affirmed that it is a longstanding US policy to not support any referendum on Taiwan independence. Third, in response to the idea of Tsai Ing-wen’s so-called security dialogue with Japan, the Japanese government outright rejected the proposal and stressed that Japan’s basic position on Taiwan adheres to the China-Japan Joint Statement inked in 1972, adding that its relationship with Taiwan is non-governmental in nature and that this has not changed.

Tsai Ing-wen’s recent aggressive moves with regard to cross-Strait relations have fully exposed the Taiwan authorities’ anxiety about the situation on the island and electoral pressure—they are gambling with interests of the Taiwanese people to advance their own selfish electoral interests. At the same time, this anti-mainland broadside shows Tsai Ing-wen’s wishful thinking and serious misjudgment of cross-Strait relations, China-U.S. relations, China-Japan relations, and even of Taiwanese public opinion.

Just as Xi Jinping said in his speech, “Taiwan is part of China, and…the two sides belong to one China. The fact cannot be changed by anyone or any forces.” In the face of the DPP’s recent provocative actions to try to influence elections, the mainland must maintain its strategic strength, but it must also seize the opportunity to truly change the situation. First, the DPP’s Taiwan independence policy should be dealt with severely; at the same time, China should make plans and countermeasures in advance of any future moves. Second, in response to the recent invitation for DPP members to visit the United States (some are even suggesting inviting Tsai Ing-wen to the U.S. Congress), China should communicate with the United States in a timely manner to indicate its position and avoid misjudgment. Third, China should intensify efforts to benefit Taiwan’s people and carry out non-governmental exchanges to realize the integration and development of the people on both sides of the strait. Fourth, China should steadily promote the democratic consultation process of the two-system solution to the Taiwan question, learn from people from all walks of life across the Taiwan Strait, respect the views of Taiwanese compatriots, resolve any misunderstandings that the Taiwanese people may have about the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, and promote development and peaceful reunification across the Taiwan Strait. 

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