Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou used the third and final round of a widely watched televised presidential debate to challenge Democratic Progressive Party opponent Dr Tsai Ing-wen to spell out her stand on independence for the island.
Ma, seeking a second term in the January 14 poll, demanded yesterday that Tsai explain exactly what her 'Taiwan consensus' meant and why she had not committed to not declaring Taiwan independent.
'You were evasive on many issues in the first debate,' Ma said, referring to an appearance two weeks ago when Tsai stopped short of clarifying how she would improve cross-strait ties, given that she disputed the '1992 consensus'.
The consensus, made verbally by representatives of the mainland and Taiwan in Hong Kong in 1992, states that both parties agree that there is only one China, but each has its own interpretation of what that China stands for.
Beijing has stressed time and again that without the consensus, the two sides cannot continue in their slowly warming cross-strait ties. On Friday, Jia Qinglin , chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, warned that no more talks would be held and existing agreements would not be honoured without the 1992 consensus.
Taipei and Beijing have signed 16 agreements since Ma became president in 2008 and pursued an engagement policy with the mainland.
Tsai did not say last night what the outcome of denying the 1992 consensus would be, but stressed that her 'Taiwan consensus' was much more democratic than the 1992 agreement.
On Ma's call for her to publicly denounce Taiwanese independence, Tsai said that if Ma agreed that the Republic of China was a sovereign independent country, 'why should there be Taiwan independence?'
She then quizzed Ma on his cross-strait policy of 'no unification, no independence and no use of force'.
'If you support eventual cross-strait reunification, why would you still say no to reunification?' she asked.
Ma also asked Tsai whether she would free former president Chen Shui-bian, who was jailed for corruption, if she was elected.
But Tsai said it was still too early to say whether she would grant an amnesty to Chen, given that he was still subject to various ongoing corruption cases.
The debate also saw Ma's other challenger, James Soong Chu-yu, chairman of the People First Party, claim that neither Ma nor Tsai was capable of running the island well.
Soong also accused Ma of failing to understand that the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement signed by the two sides last year was not a wonder drug that could cure the public's financial problems.
Over the two hours, the three candidates also debated various domestic issues, including judicial reform, children and women's welfare, human rights, housing prices, health insurance and agriculture.
Ma said that if he was re-elected, he would do all he could to win a bid for the 2024 Olympic Games.