It’s up to Beijing to act as a loving partner in cross-strait relations
Cary Huang says China’s rising clout cannot be ignored as both sides try to manage the tensions that come with Tsai Ing-wen’s presidency in Taiwan
The inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen as Taiwan’s new president signalled the end of eight years of stable ties across the Taiwan Strait. It also represents a failure of Beijing’s Taiwan policy despite the recent historic summit between Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) and Ma Ying-jeou.
Analysts see Tsai’s comprehensive victory (by a margin of 25 percentage points) over her Kuomintang competitor as reflecting a wish by most Taiwanese to keep a distance from China.
Tsai ran on the platform of keeping the status quo but not accepting Beijing’s cherished “One China” principle and not recognising the 1992 consensus. In reaction, Beijing has threatened to suspend all official communication with Taipei if Tsai refuses to compromise. Compared with 16 years ago – when Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party colleague Chen Shui-bian took office – the mainland has much stronger leverage today to intimidate the Taiwanese into accepting its demands.
China’s economic, military and diplomatic power has grown exponentially since 2000. Its defence budget has risen tenfold to reach US$147 billion this year, making it the second largest in the world, behind the United States. Its economic and diplomatic clout has also grown just as quickly.
On the other hand, Taiwan has become more vulnerable to the mainland menace. The island’s economy is now heavily dependent on its 40 per cent of exports to China, and about half of its tourism earnings come from mainland visitors. Tsai must undertake the difficult task of achieving growth while also maintaining a certain distance from China.
The Economist declared the honeymoon between Tsai and Beijing was over before it had started. But the fact is that there was no love affair between them in the first place. They do not even share a common political language to enable them to communicate, in order to develop any intimacy.
Despite increasing exchanges in the past three decades, the political gap between the two has widened. While Taiwan has become one of the most successful free democracies in the world, Beijing has stubbornly rejected any significant political reform to overhaul its repressive one-party system.
That is why even Beijing-friendly and Harvard-educated Ma admitted that he and China’s leaders could not communicate with the same political language, despite their cooperation in non-political and economic affairs.
Ma’s government implemented a policy of “three no’s” – no independence, no unification and no force – to develop stable ties with the mainland. But this policy may not continue under a pro-independence Tsai and a nationalistic Xi, who sees unification as a major political goal for his legacy.
Reunification is a love affair which involves a relationship with both physical and emotional intimacy. And to get there, dialogue, mutual respect and reciprocity are necessary.
Beijing should let the Taiwanese feel that they are loved and make an effort to create an atmosphere where a closer relationship is possible.
Some people say the relationship between lovers sometimes resembles that between a hand and a bird. Neglect, mistrust, arrogance, paranoia and jealousy will either make a hand crush a bird in its grip, or make the bird fly away to save itself.
The key to a successful loving relationship is to make sure you don’t crush the bird, or let it fly away. But it will be hard for Xi and Tsai to see eye to eye, never mind develop a more intimate relationship, as was seen between Xi and Ma.
Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post