ANALYSIS: The Table Has Been Set for 2019’s Cross-Strait Chess Match

Xi Jinping and Tsai Ing-wen have set the parameters for a conflict that may not end anytime soon.

The News Lens
Date: 2019/01/29
By: Dongtao Qi, Asia Dialogue

Credit: Reuters / TPG

The dynamics of the cross-Strait relations in 2019 have been revealed by Taiwan and China’s top leaders’ speeches in the first two days of 2019. In her New Year speech on Jan. 1, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) emphasized her determination and clarified her administration’s strategies for defending Taiwan from China’s increasing efforts for unification. On the next day, Jan. 2, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his confidence and eagerness, and meanwhile, proposed various strategies, for promoting unification with Taiwan in his speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of issuing the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan.

Several hours later Tsai responded to Xi’s speech in a press conference by completely rejecting his proposals including the “1992 consensus,” or more essentially, the one China principle, as the political foundation for current cross-Strait official relations, and the one country, two systems as the model for future unification. It has been clear from this indirect conversation between the two leaders that the 2019 cross-Strait relations will be mainly characterized by the conflicts between China’s promoting and Taiwan’s rejecting unification. Two impending factors, Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections in January 2020 and the American Trump administration’s rising efforts to contain China, will complicate these conflicts and bring more uncertainties to the cross-Strait relations in 2019.

The changing public opinion in Taiwan, through declining of Taiwanese nationalism, the rising independent voters and increasingly more realistic public perception of Taiwan’s democracy, are partly a result of these new trends. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s electoral debacle in the 2018 nine-in-one local elections, are the most relevant context for us to better understand the two leaders’ speeches. Having been encouraged by these favorable factors, Xi seems to believe that China’s carrot and stick strategy has been effective in dividing Taiwan, which put China in a rarely advantageous position to not only repress the pro-independence force but also promote pro-unification activities. His speech may be viewed as an announcement for the advent of the new pro-unification era, which means the Chinese government will more proactively and significantly push the cross-Strait relations toward unification.

The most important pro-unification strategy implied in his speech is the clarification/re-definition of the “1992 consensus.” Previously, the Chinese government’s official definition of the consensus was the one-China principle, and Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT)’s definition is “one China, different interpretations”. Because both of them accept “one China” as the common ground, they can maintain good relations. But the Chinese government has gradually realized that the KMT had been taking advantage of the consensus by gaining benefits from the good cross-Strait relations without working for unification. Xi’s speech clarifies that the consensus is not only about the one China principle, but also that the two sides need to dedicate themselves to unification. In other words, accepting the consensus means, on the one hand, to affirm that China and Taiwan belong to one China, and on the other, to work with China for unification. This is a preemptive strategy mainly aiming at Taiwan’s next party in power after the 2020 presidential election.    [FULL  STORY]

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