Tsai and Beijing play their Cards

“Taiwan Affairs Office” (TAO) spokesperson Yang Yi (杨毅), on a press conference on wednesday, reacted to a statement by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).

Tsai,  a day earlier, had said that her party would engage in dialogue with China with a more energetic attitude, but would not accept the One China principle, writes A-Gu.

Yang suggested that

cross straight relations and “peaceful development”, had advanced and produced results because they were being realized on the foundation of the common recognition of the One China principle of the ’92 consensus. It was hard to see how cross-strait relations could be maintained or developed without that foundation, if the “one-China framework was denied, and if the “splittist position” of “one side, one country” was intransigently upheld.

A-Gu is

struck by the way the statement closes: it’s merely difficult to imagine, not impossible, for relations to remain intact with a DPP that denies “One China.” That seems to hint to me that the Chinese leadership is at least still debating this question, though unlikely already resolved to maintain current agreements like the ECFA (however, uncertainty on this question would surely assist the KMT come  2012); and the Chinese leadership is doubtlessly eager to see just how “energetic” of an attitude the DPP will display during this time where the Chinese government need concede nothing.

Re-reading my (or A-Gu’s, again) translation of what TAO had to say after Tsai had been nominated as the DPP’s presidential candidate in April, Yang’s statement of Wednesday clearly looks more moderate. Among suggestions that “one side, one country” would influence things or have an impact, her April statement had also included the strong accusation that the DPP’s position would “破坏两岸关系和平发展” (destroy the peaceful development of cross strait relations).

Apparently no longer. But why the – relative – moderation?

One answer could be that as unwelcome as a DPP victory in Taiwan’s presidential elections would be to Beijing, it is quite a possibility. In the past, it has been Chinese practice to act as if no threats had ever been made. Rather than “eating their words”, they acted as if they had never been spoken.

That Beijing would still do everything it could to isolate Taiwan is a different story – but that applies to these days of Ma Ying-jeou‘s presidency, just as it did to the days of Chen Shui-bian‘s.

Another explanation might be that Ma isn’t quite the “chess piece” Beijing had hoped he would be. Ma wavered a lot – but as an elected leader (and one who sought reelection), he had to take the will of Taiwan’s public into account. (It’s no decent campaign approach anyway to suggest that Ma were Beijing’s willing henchman who’d put Taiwan’s de-facto independence to death.)

Another might be that points made by Taiwanese visitors to Beijing, such as Wang Hsing-ching (aka Nanfang Shuo), who is not suspected of being particularly splittist there, have had some impact after all. Wang had long argued that relying only on the KMT to get a picture of Taiwan’s public mood was no wise policy.

Global opinion may play a role, too. While China seems to be going ballistic in the South China (or West Philippine) sea, it may have registered that the DPP is making use of the cards Taiwan still has. Tsai travelled to Britain and Germany this month, and has met with a number of not-so-unimportant politicians there, and after her return to Taiwan. President Ma can show off some international contacts as well.

There would be many good reasons for Beijing to respect the results of democratic elections, either way, at least abroad. Maybe occasionally, such good reasons will be good enough even for China’s leaders.


Updates / Related

» Ros-Lehtinen: a Duty to Deliver, Taipei Times, June 13, 2011

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