Is China Ready for Taiwan's New Government?

Beijing is already frustrated with Tsai—and she hasn't even taken office.

A little over a month before Taiwan’s next president, Tsai Ing-wen, takes office, cross–Taiwan Strait issues have found their way onto the main international stage. Meeting on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Washington, DC, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged U.S. President Barack Obama to “keep taking concrete actions” to help maintain cross-Strait peace. It is not unusual that the issue of Taiwan comes up in any meeting between the two presidents, but Xi’s raising the subject shortly before Tsai’s inauguration on May 20 reveals Beijing’s growing concerns about the uncertainties of cross-Strait relations under the lead of the traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Beijing’s policy on Taiwan is clear: it opposes any form of separatist activities seeking Taiwanese independence, and it adheres to the 1992 Consensus (and its primary assumption that Taiwan and the mainland belong to the same China) as the common political foundation for promoting peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. Unlike President Ma Ying-jeou, who upholds the “one China” essence of the 1992 Consensus, Tsai Ing-wen has declined to endorse One China. Instead, Tsai has proposed that she would base her cross-Strait policy on an “existing political foundation,” which contains “the existing Republic of China (ROC) constitutional order.” How do people in Taiwan view Tsai’s current approach to China? Would Beijing take it as a gesture of goodwill, as it seems to be the closest concept to Beijing’s one-China principle that Tsai has proposed so far?


Pass the Domestic Test

Tsai’s current policy of recognizing the ROC constitutional framework without outright accepting the concept of One China fares well domestically. In a recent survey by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, 55.1 percent of the Taiwanese public believes Tsai’s policy qualifies as maintaining the status quo in relations with the mainland, an option that has topped the people’s preferences for Taiwan’s future since 1995.

In fact, Tsai’s policy provides a high degree of flexibility to accommodate different voices in Taiwan. Without accepting the one-China concept, Tsai caters to the current domestic atmosphere of unfriendliness toward Beijing, prevalent in a society with a growing Taiwanese consciousness, particularly the younger generation. Without rejecting One China, Tsai soothes the nerves of those who are concerned about irritating Beijing and hence a downturn in cross-Strait relations, which could cause a loss of economic opportunities from bilateral economic ties with the mainland and Beijing-led multilateral agreements.

It is worth noting that although more than half of the people believe the next government that promises to work under constitutional order will preserve the cross-Strait status quo, people’s opinions are split on whether the constitutional framework advocates One China. Specifically, people are diverse in their interpretations of Article 11 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution, and its derivative laws, the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area. The laws indicate that the ROC’s territory includes the Free Area, the Taiwan area “under the effective control of the Government” and the Mainland Area, “the territory of the Republic of China outside the Taiwan Area.” In the recent survey, 38.3 percent of the people believe this formulation implies One China, while 40.1 percent of the people argue it does not. While President Ma was clear that the ROC constitutional order suggests One China, Tsai has not yet explained how she interprets the relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait under the ROC constitutional framework. Considering her current policy of ambiguity has played well among the people of Taiwan, Tsai has every reason to remain neutral.


Beijing’s Frustration