Tsai Ing-wen

Beijing expresses dissatisfaction after Taiwan’s new President Tsai Ing-wen swaps ‘consensus’ for ‘historic fact’

Island’s new leader must take concrete action to prove her sincerity to keep cross-strait ties stable, says mainland China’s Taiwan Affairs Office

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 2016, 12:22am

The mainland’s top agency ­dealing with Taiwan affairs has ­expressed dissatisfaction with the inaugural speech of the island’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, after she shunned mention of the term “1992 consensus”.

The Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council demanded that Tsai – the island’s first woman president who was sworn in yesterday morning – take appropriate steps to prove her sincerity in maintaining cross-strait relations.

“Tsai made no concrete proposal for ensuring the peaceful and stable growth of cross-strait relations,” the office said in a statement. “This [her speech] is an incomplete test answer ... The Taiwan authorities must give an explicit answer with concrete actions to all these major questions and face the test of history.”

The Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said in a commentary that the mainland’s stance on sovereignty had not changed, and that the anti-secession law passed by the National People’s Congress in 2005 was still an effective legal tool to contain Taiwanese independence.

In her inaugural speech, Tsai avoided explicitly mentioning the word “consensus”, saying instead that she respected the “historic fact” that a meeting took place in 1992, during which Taiwan and the mainland sought common ground and tried to set aside their differences.

“I respect this historic fact,” Tsai said. “Based on such existing realities and political foundations, the stable and peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship must be continuously promoted.”

The consensus refers to the understanding struck between unofficial representatives of Beijing and Taipei that there is only “one China” but that each side can have its own interpretation of what constitutes “China”.

The Beijing-friendly Kuomintang government under the leadership of former president Ma Ying-jeou had since 2008 supported the consensus, while Tsai’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, which won a landslide victory over the KMT in January’s poll, has all along refused to endorse it.

In her speech yesterday, Tsai said that in 1992, two institutions representing each side across the Taiwan Strait, through communication and negotiation, arrived at various joint acknowledgements.

This was done in the spirit of mutual understanding and a political attitude of seeking common ground while setting aside differences, she said.

But Hu Shiqing, an expert at the Taiwan Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, pointed out that “the [‘historic fact’ of the] meeting” and the “consensus” were two different things. “Acknowledging the consensus is a precondition of the development of cross-strait ties ... Tsai’s speech failed to address the problem [of whether she acknowledges the 1992 consensus],” Hu said.

Tsai pledged that her government would handle cross-strait affairs in accordance with the constitution of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s official name – which includes the “one China” concept.

She also said her government would abide by the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area containing the concept that both Taiwan and the mainland are treated as areas under one China before reunification.

She called for Taipei and Beijing to “set aside the baggage of history and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides”.

Her administration would “work to maintain peace and stability” in cross-strait ties in line with the Taiwan’s constitution, but it must also respect the “democratic principle and prevalent will” of the 23 million people on the island, she said.

On the complex security situation in the Asia-Pacific region, Tsai admitted that cross-strait relations had become an integral part of building regional peace and collective security.

Analysts said it remained to be seen if Beijing would opt for cooperation and dialogue with Taipei, given that Tsai hoped to use the term “1992 historic fact” to replace the “1992 consensus”. They said Beijing might not be satisfied, but it could accept what she said in the end.

“By mentioning the ROC constitution and the Taiwan and mainland areas, it is hard for Beijing to say that she is violating the one-China principle,” said Alexander Wang Chieh-cheng, a professor of strategic and American studies at Tamkang University.

Tsai also pledged to “safeguard the sovereignty and territory of the Republic of China” and deal with problems rising in the East China Sea and South China Sea by proposing a dispute settlement system to enable joint development in those areas.

Some DPP members have said there is no need for Tsai’s government to pay attention to the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by Japan and Taiwan, or the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, claimed in part or wholly by Taipei, Beijing, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Tsai also said her government would pursue an economic model for sustainable development based on innovation, employment and equitable distribution.

The American Institute in ­Taiwan said the US looked forward to working with the new Tsai ­administration.