Feeling upbeat about relations between Taipei and Beijing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 12:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 July, 2015, 12:05am

In Taiwan, cross-strait relations continue to be a major factor of social and political division.

In light of recent developments, many observers have begun to fear that Taiwan's relations with mainland China have reached a crossroads and no further progress can be made. But I think there is reason to be optimistic about the future.

First, following the student-led Sunflower movement in Taiwan in March last year, Beijing is paying closer attention to public opinion in Taiwan.

Particular emphasis is placed on the "three middles and the youth", or medium and small-sized enterprises, medium- and low-income families, residents of central and southern Taiwan, and young people. Beijing's future policies will be more in line with and respond to the expectations of more Taiwanese people.

Contrary to what many critics claim, a second basis of optimism is that Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, the likely winner of Taiwan's 2016 presidential election, has presented to international stakeholders a welcome sincerity with regard to cross-strait affairs.

On a number of occasions, Tsai has reiterated her position of maintaining the status quo. In a speech last month in Washington, she talked about "the peaceful and stable development of cross-strait relations in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people and the existing ROC constitutional order".

The 1947 constitution of the Republic of China arguably holds stronger political legitimacy than the "1992 Consensus".

Grounding cross-strait policies under the existing constitution represents Taiwan's best hope of forging broader consensus and getting Beijing's acknowledgment, if not recognition, of the ROC's existence and jurisdiction over Taiwan. If Beijing is willing to read between the lines, it may even interpret this move by Tsai as a friendly but implicit non-denial of "one China" under the ROC constitution.

The final basis for optimism is the common Chinese heritage shared by the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as literature, etiquette, and the arts, for example, are promoted and preserved in Taiwan. Beijing should be open-minded enough to incorporate the virtues of "fellow compassion" and "great unity" envisioned in its ancient tradition. This could pave the way, in the years ahead, for new progress in cross-strait relations as Taipei and Beijing build a common future based on peace and co-prosperity.

Alfred Tsai, New York