The Fragile Stalemate Across the Taiwan Strait
By Suisheng Zhao

The Fragile Stalemate Across the Taiwan Strait

Oct. 27, 2016  |     |  0 comments

The interactions of two sets of variables have played a key role in shaping cross-strait relations. One is the domestic dynamics of Mainland China and Taiwan. The second is the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait. Given the relatively stable balance of power during the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration in 2000-2008, the interaction between the Chen Shui-bian administration’s push toward independence and Beijing’s reaction to stop Chen was the primary cause of the instability across the Taiwan Strait. The return of the Kuomintang (KMT) to power in 2008 started eight years of progress towards peace and stability because of the positive interactions between the Ma Ying-jeou administration and Beijing.

The good old days of stability, however, have been replaced by a stalemate or cold peace after the Tsai Ing-wen administration came to power in 2016. Although President Tsai has taken a rational approach in her promise to maintain the status quo across the strait and her reiteration of Taiwan’s good will and commitment toward cross-strait ties, she has refused to speak on Beijing’s terms of the 1992 Consensus, by which both sides agreed to disagree on what the term “one China” means, because it would not only likely alienate her DPP supporters but also violate her own beliefs. The stalemate, however, is fragile because of Beijing’s perception of the balance of power tilting towards its favor. As Chinese leaders have relied increasingly on coercive measures, the fragile cold peace could be replaced by inflaming tensions and hot crisis should either side fail to maintain pragmatism.

Beijing Vs the Tsai Administration before the Inauguration

After her electoral victory in January 2016, President-elect Tsai promised to maintain the status quo and commit to “the constitutional order of the Republic of China.” In a way to moderate traditional DPP policies, she said that she would “continue to work for cross-strait peace and stability and the development of cross-strait relations on such ‘political bases’ as the historical fact of the 1992 cross-strait talks between the two bodies, the two sides’ common acknowledgment that they should seek common ground while reserving differences and the constitutional system in force of the Republic of China.”1

Given the DPP policy is far less congenial to the Mainland than the KMT and Tsai’s reluctance to disavow the DPP’s calls for Taiwan’s de facto independence, Beijing suspected that Tsai’s “status quo” and “constitution order” were redolent of a circuitous “two-country” theory. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned that “peaceful growth of relations would be impossible unless Tsai asserted that ‘both the Mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China.’” In Beijing’s eyes, Tsai’s promise for status quo only emphasized “no unification” and ignored President Ma’s status quo of “no independence.”

Labeling Tsai as another trouble-maker, Jing Canrong at Beijing’s Renmin University suggested that, in comparison with former DPP president Chen Shui-bian, Tsai could appear softer but was more determined in pursuing Taiwan’s independence. Zhong Houtang of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences predicted that Tsai would certainly reverse the Mainland policy of the Ma administration in at least three ways. First, Tsai would reverse Ma’s order of placing cross strait relations above Taiwan’s foreign relations. Second, Tsai would replace Ma’s flexible diplomacy for soft Taiwan independent diplomacy. Third, Tsai would reverse Ma’s policy of going to the world via the Mainland and move closer to the US and Japan against the Mainland. Beijing was alert to see if Tsai would take any action moving Taiwan towards de facto independence, be it legal, gradual, soft, or cultural. Beijing also watched if Tsai would take action to eliminate Chinese influence in Taiwan, such as cultural de-Sinozation (文化去中), democracy against China (民主拒中), economic exclusion of China (经济排中), and diplomatic resistance to China (外交抗中).2

Beijing would not work with the Tsai administration unless Tsai invoked the 1992 Consensus. Speaking on March 5, President Xi Jinping described the 1992 Consensus as the political bottom line for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations. Xi expressed Beijing’s resolution to contain and stop any form of behavior leading to Taiwan’s independence.3

The 1992 Consensus, in which both sides agreed that there is one China but each may maintain a separate interpretation of its meaning, was important for Beijing because it is a fig leaf to cover up differences between the Mainland and Taiwan and also because it creates the impression of an accord. While Mainland officials have focused on one China and rarely if ever mentioned the separate interpretations, which Taiwan focused on, the Mainland now treats the term as a touchstone — anyone who doesn’t embrace the term is seen as someone who refuses to accept “one China.”4 Unless President Tsai and DPP accept the 1992 Consensus, they would be taken as desirous of changing the status quo.

In the meantime, Beijing sent strong signals about possible consequences if President Tsai did not utter the 1992 Consensus. Taiwan could risk its Mainland trade and tourists that increased significantly during the Ma years, a bright spot for the otherwise struggling Taiwanese economy. Taiwan could also risk greater international isolation as Beijing could seek to lure Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies away. As a warning shot, China announced on March 18 that it had resumed diplomatic relations with Gambia, an African nation that had maintained ties with Taiwan for nearly two decades. The announcement signaled the possible end of the “diplomatic truce” and the resumption of the contest to woo countries around the world. Beijing also backpedalled on its cooperation on judicial matters with Taiwan. Whereas Beijing had for years quietly obliged requests to deport Taiwanese criminal suspects to face justice in Taiwan, Beijing in April ignored such requests and implored Kenya — over Taiwan’s protests —  to deport some 50 Taiwanese, along with a number of Chinese, who were suspected of telecommunications fraud to the Mainland to face its judicial processes.

Another warning shot came when the anxious incoming Tsai administration received an invitation from the World Health Organization to attend its World Health Assembly (WHA) on May 23-28 as an observer under the name of “Chinese Taipei.” The invitation for the first time mentioned the UN resolution No. 2758 passed on October 25, 1971 that recognized the People’s Republic of China as the “only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.” In other words, the invitation was made under the premise of the “One-China principle.” The invitation arrived on May 6 and the incoming administration had to decide by the May 9 deadline of online registration if it wanted to attend the WHA.

Then, two days after Susan Thornton, the US principal deputy assistant secretary of the State, said on May 3 that it was still too early to say if there was a “stalemate” between President-elect Tsai and Beijing, the People’s Daily published an ultimatum-like editorial, warning about the beginning of a new stage of stalemate and even confrontation across the Taiwan Strait. According to one commentator, the editorial signaled that the Mainland was ready to take sanctions (惩罚措施如箭在弦) against Taiwan. The future of cross-strait relations, be it mountain shaking (地动山摇), cold confrontation, or status quo, would hinge on Tsai’s May 20 inauguration speech as well as the incoming DPP government’s policy towards the Mainland.5 By raising its bid, Beijing tried to bring Tsai to heel in the run-up to her inauguration.

The Cold Peace after the Inauguration

In her inauguration speech, Tsai avoided using the word “consensus” but said she respected the “historical fact” that a meeting took place in 1992, during which Taiwan and the Mainland sought common ground and tried to set aside differences. Tsai also said her administration would handle cross-strait affairs in accordance with the Republic of China Constitution and the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area adopted during the KMT-era that assumed the eventual reunification of the two sides. Tsai’s statements could be interpreted as an implicit acknowledgement of the 1992 Consensus.6 Beijing, however, was not satisfied. The Taiwan Affairs Office had a simple rejoinder: Tsai’s speech was an “incomplete test paper.” She must clearly state that she adhered to the 1992 Consensus rather than be “ambiguous and evasive” before she can pass the test.

Although the mountains were not shaking, Beijing took serious sanctions against the Tsai administration, leading to a stalemate or cold peace. The Taiwan Affairs Office suspended communications with its Taiwanese counterpart, the Mainland Affairs Council of the Executive Yuan, soon after Tsai’s inauguration. The two government agencies were one of the primary channels of official communication in cross-strait talks during the Ma administration. Beijing also halted the longstanding semi-official channel between the Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits and the Straits Exchange Foundation. By refusing to communicate, Beijing made it difficult for the Tsai government to fulfill its obligations to its citizens. After the suspension started, Cambodia decided to deport to the Mainland 25 Taiwanese suspects accused of telecommunications fraud, the third instance after Tsai’s election of China seeking to prosecute Taiwanese suspects on its soil. Without official communication channels, the Tsai administration was not able to reach the Mainland agencies regarding family member visits and repatriation.

In her July interview with The Washington Post, Tsai was asked how she handled day-to-day relations with Beijing after the Chinese had cut off the official channels of communication and her answer was that “we have always had diverse channels of communication across the strait. These include not just official communications but also people-to-people contacts.” One Chinese scholar commented that the so-called “people to people contacts” were not authorized and could not be verified. If Tsai counted them as “communication channels,” that meant that she was at the end of her rope (黔驴技穷) and desperate.7

The suspension of the official communication mechanism was part of Beijing’s efforts to increase pressure on the Tsai administration. Beijing’s pressure, however, has not brought Tsai to endorse the 1992 Consensus. In The Washington Post interview, President Tsai said that “it isn’t likely that the government of Taiwan will accept a deadline for conditions that are against the will of the people.”8 The answer was interpreted by the Mainland media as marking the first time that Tsai officially refused to accept the 1992 Consensus and exposed her pro-independence stance. Tsai was not willing to complete the incomplete test and pulled the relationship backward.9 Defying Beijing’s pressure, President Tsai published an open letter on September 28, the 30th anniversary of the founding of the DPP, which stated that “we will fight Chinese oppression and develop our relationships with other nations.” In response, the Mainland media labeled it “a big exposure of Tsai’s true thought,” which would “push Taiwan towards a cliff.”10

Tsai did not say what Beijing wanted her to say because it would alienate many people in Taiwan. As Tsai said in an interview on October 4, “I believe that as a democratic society, the Taiwanese people will stand up against this pressure together. The government will never enact measures that defy public opinion in Taiwan.”11

Beijing is very concerned that the Taiwanese identity has gradually taken hold at the expense of the Chinese identity.

It is to Beijing’s dismay that its economic and political engagements with Taiwan have not wooed Taiwanese people to identify more closely with the motherland. Using the economy to promote politics and using ordinary people to pressure officials, the Mainland’s “silver cannon offense” (银弹攻势), which included preferential treatments to transfer benefits (让利) to Taiwanese businesspeople, accumulated a huge deficit in the Mainland’s trade with Taiwan, amounting to USD 105.7 billion in 2014. However, it did not reach its objective because most of the economic benefits went to a small number of businesspeople, and ordinary people did not benefit from the policy. In the meantime, many Taiwanese were convinced that the extent of cross-strait economic ties made Taiwan vulnerable to Beijing’s political interference. Although most Taiwanese still believed that strong cross-strait economic ties were necessary, their suspicion and anxiety had put pressure on politicians to slow the pace at which cross-strait agreements could be implemented.12 At the end of the Ma administration, Beijing had harvested almost all the easy fruits, leaving behind the hardcore political issues, a hindrance for further developments in cross-strait relations.13

Increasing pressure on President Tsai, Beijing is very concerned that the Taiwanese identity has gradually taken hold at the expense of the Chinese identity. In particular, the young generations in Taiwan have displayed a natural independence tendency. Zhang Tuosheng of the China International Strategic Foundation in Beijing expressed the concern that the identity to the Mainland of the young generation in Taiwan has declined significantly due to the following developments. One is the long time separation between the Mainland and Taiwan. The second is the differences in political systems, ideologies and values. The third is de-Sinozation of education since the Lee Teng-hui years. Fourth, many Taiwanese people are afraid of becoming another Hong Kong, which has not been regarded as a successful example of One Country Two Systems. And finally, many Taiwan people did not like the widening gap between rich and poor, corruption, and the lack of the rule of law on the Mainland. These negative developments have deterred some in Taiwan from identifying with the Mainland.14

A paradox has, therefore, occurred. On one hand, the continuing rise of the Mainland’s comprehensive national strength has given Beijing confidence in its ability to eventually reach the goal of unification with Taiwan. It is, therefore, willing to wait for a while for the Taiwanese people to change their attitude, understand the benefits of unification, and voluntarily come to a peaceful unification. On the other hand, China’s rise did not increase its attractiveness to the Taiwanese people and did not prevent the Chinese identity from being lost among Taiwanese people even during the eight years of the increasingly close economic relations. As Tsai will continue the trend of de-Sinozation, the Taiwanese identity and separationist consciousness will only be strengthened. As a result, many people on the Mainland have become pessimistic about the prospect of peaceful unification and have called for more coercive actions after the Tsai administration came to office. It has become popular to say that “peaceful unification is already hopeless” (和平统一已无希望) and “it is better to take military actions early than late” (晚打不如早打). Beijing is, therefore, unwilling to wait too long.15

Calling on Beijing to do whatever it can to undermine the Tsai administration and even risk a military confrontation, Guo Zhengjia wrote that the Mainland should play the following four cards decisively and forcefully (杀伐果决). One is the political card to undermine Tsai’s political support. The second is the diplomatic card to isolate Taiwan. The third is the economic card to reduce tourists, investment, education, and other exchanges to hinder Tsai’s domestic agenda, including her promise to revive a slowing economy. And the fourth is the military card to demonstrate Beijing’s military capacity.16

Warning of the danger in moving towards the extreme of completely losing confidence and patience in the possibility of peaceful unification and taking one-cut-like coercive actions (一刀切式的強硬手段), a scholar in Beijing, nevertheless, suggested that the peaceful development of relations across the strait could be delayed or even reversed due to the push for independence by the DPP administration. The cross-strait relationship, therefore, has come to a deep adjustment period.17 A scholar in Shanghai’s Taiwan Studies Institute predicted that the prospect across the Taiwan Strait was not promising, risking possibilities of stagnation, falling backward, and partial or wholesale confrontation.18

Moving towards Confrontation?

Beijing’s frustration has led China’s Taiwan policy towards a more proactive direction in pushing for unification when Beijing perceives the power balance across the Taiwan Strait tilting in its favor. While Taiwan was proactive in pushing the envelope and Beijing was reactive in stopping Taiwan’s independence during the first DPP administration in 2000-08, Beijing became proactive in pushing its national unification goal and forcing Taiwan to be more reactive during the Ma administration in 2008-16. Since President Xi Jinping came to office, Beijing has pushed for a timetable of national unification.

During negotiations with the US regarding diplomatic recognition in 1978, Deng Xiaoping told Japanese visitors that Beijing was not in a hurry to resolve the Taiwan issue and could wait for 100 years if necessary. Jiang Zemin started to articulate that China would not wait forever but lacked the capacity to back up the implicit threat. While President Xi has made greater efforts to push for political dialogue, he has become more confident in China’s ability to resolve the Taiwan issue on Beijing’s terms. He made a blunt statement in October 2013 that “the issue of political disagreements that exist between the two sides must reach a final resolution, step by step, and these issues cannot be passed on from generation to generation.” Xi also stated at the 95th anniversary of the founding of the CCP on July 1, 2016 that “the Taiwan issue is the only incomplete part of the CCP mission for national unification” (祖国统一大业最后未完成的部分). To realize the China dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and reach the “two centenary goals” of building a moderately prosperous society by the time the party celebrates its 100th birthday in 2021, and creating a prosperous and advanced economy by the time of Chinese ascendance to cultural, economic, and military prowess in 2049, the CCP has to resolve the Taiwan issue and complete national unification.

Setting a linkage between the China Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the national unification issue, Xi has effectively linked the resolution of the Taiwan issue to the time-table of the two anniversaries or two stages for the realization of the China dream.19 In other words, Xi’s speech implied a time-table for the resolution of the Taiwan issue: if not in 2021, it has to be resolved by 2049, precisely 100 years after the founding of the PRC.

While the Chinese leadership has talked about the time-table in ambiguous terms, hawkish nationalist scholar Jin Canrong is blunt. Speaking to a packed auditorium at Beijing’s Renmin University in June, Jin laid out a four-stage strategy of “observe, pressure, confront, and conflict” (观察, 施压, 对抗, 衝突) to deal with Taiwan. Beijing would observe the Tsai administration’s behavior for about half a year and then increase pressure, including unravelling the 23 trade and investment, aviation, and tourism accords with Taiwan and resuming diplomatic war to take away Taiwan’s remaining 22 diplomatic partners. If Tsai still refuses to embrace the 1992 Consensus in the last year of her first term, China would confront Tsai with explicit military threats. If Tsai wins re-election and continues the course in 2020, Beijing would wage war in 2021, the year of the completion of the first stage target of Xi’s China dream. At that time, China’s military capacity would have grown to a level that the US would not dare to intervene and hence have to tell Taiwan to take care of itself (你自己保重). The Taiwan issue would be finally resolved.20

Beijing has moved to set a time-table because of its increasing confidence in its ability to settle the Taiwan issue on its own terms. As one Chinese scholar stated, the eventual unification is not an issue in long term (从大势上看). The issue is the timing and price (时间和代价). If the Mainland continues to increase its strength, its attraction and centripetal force to the Taiwan people will continue to increase. The resolution to the Taiwan issue is ultimately determined by the balance of power across the strait, which is affected by three factors: strength (实力), interests (利益), and people’s minds (人心). Among the three, strength is the decisive factor, and interests may influence and change people’s minds. As the strength gap across the strait is widening, the Mainland will have increasingly more ability (能力), leverage (筹码), and measures (手段) to deal with Taiwan and thereby guide the cross-strait relations.21 Another scholar in Beijing thus stated that the Taiwanese have never been able to determine their own fate. As China is rising and the US and Japan are relatively declining, Taiwan has to make a choice to continue following the US and Japan or cooperate with the Mainland.22

The state propaganda under President Xi has shifted subtly in tone, hinting that force may be used to compel unification.

Beijing has taken an increasingly confrontational position against the Tsai administration. In addition to suspension of official communications, Beijing has moved to use economic coercion with the perception that Taiwan’s exports depend on the Mainland market, Taiwan’s high-tech production chain can hardly operate without factories on the Mainland, and Taiwan’s tourist industry relies on Mainland visitors. Beijing’s Xinhua news agency reported that during the six months after Tsai’s election in January, cross-strait trade declined 9.9 percent. Specifically, exports to the Mainland declined 11.4 percent and imports declined 8.6 percent. According to Mainland analysis, among many factors, the uncertainly brought about by the arrival of the DPP administration was the most important one that led to the decline, which could have a significant impact on Taiwan’s economic growth.23 Taiwan’s tourist data showed that the number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan dropped 22.3 percent one month after Tsai took office, forcing many who worked in the tourist industry to lose their jobs and some agencies specializing in Mainland visitors to close down.24

Using its economic power to squeeze Taiwan’s economy, Beijing hopes to induce voters to turn against President Tsai and the DPP. This strategy seems to be working. A survey on August 22-24, one hundred days after Tsai came to office, indicated that the public satisfaction rate for the Tsai government had fallen by 17.6 percentage points to 52.3 percent in August from 69.9 percent three months ago, while the dissatisfaction rate had increased from 16 percent to nearly 40 percent, suggesting an obvious change in public opinion.25 Although the decline of President Tsai’s popularity was not primarily due to her cross-strait policy, the trend continued in the poll one month after, on September 14, in which only 40.8 percent were satisfied with Tsai while 41.8 percent were dissatisfied. 77.7 percent of those polled saw Taiwan’s economy as bad and only 9.9 percent saw it as good.26

On September 11, about ten thousand tourism industry workers braved the rain and marched from the DPP headquarters to the Presidential Office, demanding concrete measures from the government to stimulate the lagging tourism industry as Chinese visitor numbers declined. It was the first-ever protest organized by people and firms in the tourism industry, including travel agencies, tour guides, hoteliers, hostel operators, restaurant owners, tour bus companies, and representatives of other businesses. Wearing yellow and white headbands reading “jobs and survival” and T-shirts that read “This is a life-or-death situation for the tourism sector,” “No job, no life” and “Cross-strait is one family”, protesters shouted: “We want jobs, we want to survive, we want food on our tables!”

In the meantime, Beijing has resumed efforts to isolate Taiwan in the international community. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) did not invite Taiwan to its triennial meeting in Canada in September despite a plea from Taipei to participate in the meeting in order to ensure civil aviation safety. Taiwan was invited to participate as a guest at the 2013 meeting as a result of a compromise between China, the United States, and other members of the UN. Explaining why Taiwan was not invited this time, ICAO’s communications chief said that “while arrangements had been made for their attendance at the last (38th) session of the assembly, there are no such arrangements for this one” because “ICAO follows the United Nations’ ‘One China’ policy.” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it approached China on the issue in August but was “flatly rejected.” A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, described Taiwan as an “inseparable part of China” and thereby has no right to participate in the triennial meeting. “The prerequisite for Taiwan to participate in any international activity is for it to agree to the ‘One China’ policy and for this to be resolved through consultation.”27

Beijing’s Perception of Shifting Power Balance

Beijing’s confrontational move has come primarily due to its perception of a shifting power balance across the strait in the following three developments. First, Beijing perceives that its power leverage over Taiwan has increased. While Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji threatened Taiwan’s voters that Taiwan independence forces’ victory would spark a war before the 2000 presidential election, Beijing took a wait-and-see policy after its most unacceptable candidate, Chen Shuibian, was elected and was very ambiguous about what action it would take, purposely leaving room for further maneuvers, because Beijing was not sure if it had enough leverage to force Taiwan into accepting its terms.28

Since then, Beijing has rapidly developed its comprehensive national strength. President Tsai came to office when Beijing started its Thirteenth Five Year Plan in 2016. If China could maintain a 6.5 percent annual growth according to the plan, the economic gap between the Mainland and Taiwan would be widened further. According to one account, China’s GDP currently is 22 times that of Taiwan’s. Five provinces have GDP numbers larger than Taiwan’s and six provinces are close to Taiwan’s.29 As the second largest economy in the world, China has increasingly drawn Taiwan into its orbit. Beijing believes that the trend of Mainland economic domination over Taiwan will continue and Taiwan’s economic dependence on the Mainland has given it leverage to push for national unification.

Second, China’s phenomenal reemergence as a great power has given Chinese leaders confidence that they can afford to settle the Taiwan issue on their own terms. For many years, Beijing’s Taiwan policy faced a dilemma because it was set to achieve two often contradictory goals. On one hand, Beijing wanted to stop Taiwan’s drift towards independence and threatened to use military force as a deterrence. On the other hand, Chinese leaders attempted to prevent military conflict across the Taiwan Strait from damaging China’s modernization efforts. Checking Taiwanese independence through military means could undermine the objective of peace and development while giving up the threat of military force could weaken the efforts of deterring Taiwanese independence. Beijing did not want to be forced to choose one cherished goal at the expense of the other.

Because Chinese foreign policy was designed to serve domestic economic modernization (外交服务于国内经济建设) by creating and maintaining a peaceful international environment during the period, Chinese leaders would not want to sacrifice China’s modernization as long as Taiwan did not declare legal independence. Rising as a great power, China has reversed the order, using its rising economic and military power to serve its expanded foreign policy objectives, including national unification. It has become less difficult for Beijing to choose coercion at the expense of economic development.

Third, Beijing has abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s taoguangyanghui policy — hiding its capabilities, focusing on national strength-building, and biding its time — and has forcefully pursued its core national interests defined as “the bottom-line of national survival” and “essentially nonnegotiable.” Taiwan is always included in the core interest issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity, for which the Chinese leaders have signaled their resolve that they deem important enough to go to war over. While Deng saw war as a last resort against an all-out bid for independence by Taiwan, the state propaganda under President Xi has shifted subtly in tone, hinting that force may be used to compel unification and not just to prevent a declaration of independence.

Beijing is, therefore, increasingly willing to use military threats and the display of force in pursuing its core interests. In one 2015 article, former Deputy Commander of the Nanjing Military Region, Major General Wang Hongguang stated that modern warfare is about enduring ability (承受能力), including economic, political, military and psychological enduring ability. Taiwan as an island close to the Mainland without a strategic heartland (战略纵深) cannot endure the war against the Mainland. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could easily destroy all strategic targets in Taiwan as soon as a war starts.30 Zhu Chenghu, retired PLA major general, said in July 2016 that Beijing should abandon the illusion of peaceful unification (丟掉對和平統一的幻想) because historically China’s unification has never been accomplished peacefully. The military, therefore, has to be prepared to take back Taiwan by force.31

While none of these aggressive hawks spoke for government policy, their militant threat of coercion is part of the popular nationalist call for flexing muscles and reclaiming China’s great power status, a call that has played an important part in molding public opinion and which has won sympathy in the high places of the Chinese leadership. Enjoying an inflated sense of empowerment supported by its new quotient of wealth and military capacities, the Chinese leadership has become more willing to play to the popular nationalist gallery in pursuing its core interests. As a result, China’s military brinkmanship may turn the fragile cold peace into a hot crisis.


Calling for calm and rationality, President Tsai stated on October 4 that her government’s commitment to maintaining the status quo remains unchanged, its goodwill is unchanged, it will not yield to Mainland Chinese pressure, and it does not want a return to past practices of confrontation. In fact, the Tsai administration has demonstrated that it is not Chen Shui-bian administration 2.0 and has not made any surprising moves to provoke Beijing. However, the possibility of confrontation across the Taiwan Strait has increased significantly due to Beijing’s proactive push for unification. It has become increasingly delicate for the Tsai administration to resist pressure from Beijing while avoiding a return to the old path of confrontation. President Tsai has promised to maintain the status quo but the status quo has different interpretations by Beijing and Taipei. A common denominator for both sides seems to be that Taiwan does not declare formal independence or make moves in that direction, and that China does not use force to achieve unification. But the DPP has not promised no-independence. Neither has China denounced the use of force. It is a test on the political wisdom of leaders on both sides to restrain from provocation during this politically sensitive period.


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