It’s up to both sides to prise open the door to cross-strait ties
Taipei and Beijing must strive to maintain semi-official contacts that could lay the groundwork for more formal talks
Beijing has disclosed more than a month after the event that it cut the cross-strait communications channel with Taipei following President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration address on May 20. It was swift retribution for her failure to mention the “1992 consensus” between the mainland and Taiwan on the one-China principle. Beijing had already made it clear this was vital for future relations. Its eagerness to rule out compromise on matters of principle is understandable. But the abrupt action that greeted the newly elected president almost as soon as she took office underscores a lack of trust and, therefore, the importance of building it by preserving semi-official contacts. Beijing has not closed the door on this; but nor has it relaxed the condition.
The 1992 consensus that there is only one China leaves both sides free to interpret what that means. In her inauguration speech, Tsai expressed “respect” for these negotiations in 1992 and pledged to maintain stable cross-strait ties. And she did say both sides must cherish and sustain the results of more than 20 years of cross-strait negotiation and interaction, which includes closer ties forged under her Kuomintang predecessor Ma Ying-jeou. Nonetheless, Tsai has paid the price for appeasing core supporters on the cross-strait issue. Taiwan cannot suffer the practical consequences indefinitely, politically or economically.
Even as Beijing froze communications, Tsai was on her first overseas visit to Panama, one of Taiwan’s 22 remaining diplomatic allies, to mark an expansion of the Panama Canal and shore up ties. She caused a stir back home by signing a congratulatory note as President of Taiwan (ROC), prompting criticism from KMT lawmakers who saw it as “downsizing” Taiwan’s official title of Republic of China. That was a reminder of the political minefield she must negotiate.
Ultimately, Taiwan’s future lies in developing relations with the mainland. If cross-strait ties deteriorate, there could be serious economic and political implications. We trust that both sides will strive to maintain semi-official contacts that could lay the groundwork for more formal talks. Beijing says this depends on Tsai authorising the Taiwan side to recognise the 1992 consensus.
Tsai’s political skills will be put to an early test in reconciling conflicting domestic and external sentiment. Her focus so far on Taiwan’s urgent economic and social priorities is a promising sign of a practical politician, pragmatism which is sorely needed in the uncertain times ahead.