For Tsai’s administration, China is changing the status quo. It refuses to negotiate the current and future status of the cross-strait relationship. Instead China imposes preconditions on Taiwan prior to negotiations. Specifically, China wants Taiwan to adhere to the consensus status quo by verbalizing the phrase “1992 Consensus.” But the Tsai administration is unwilling to do it because it would undermine Taiwan’s perceived status as an independent and sovereign state.
The Tsai administration also challenges cross-strait ties. According to my interviews in Taiwan, China in the immediate post-election period sent high-level officials to Taiwan to continue the cross-strait policies of the previous administration (e.g., Ma Ying-jeou); however, the DPP sent a handful of low-level officials to the meeting. Some Taiwanese experts interpreted this move as a signal from Tsai’s administration to China that its administration is uninterested in maintaining all of the Ma administration’s cross-strait policies. It could be argued the Tsai administration initiated tensions in cross-strait ties while China contributed to the cycle of escalation.
Further, China looks to three key speeches delivered by the president of Taiwan in order to assess the new administration’s cross-strait policies. In the case of President Tsai, in all three speeches she not only downplayed the cross-strait relations but also avoided mentioning key concepts that signal her administration’s interest in deepening cross-strait ties within the existing frameworks (e.g., 1992 Consensus, one China). In place of these frameworks, Tsai’s administration proposes that the two sides reframe the cross-strait relationship using different frameworks that respect Taiwan’s sovereign and independent status.
The most accurate portrayal of the cross-strait situation however is that the Tsai administration shifted relations away from the consensus status quo that framed ties for eight years toward an active battleground between China’s consensus status quo and the DPP’s dynamic status quo.
Halperin’s article falls short because it works from the premise that all sides maintain the same interpretation of and same policies on the status quo. But based upon the different interpretations, it can be argued that neither China nor Taiwan’s DPP is altering the status quo. Rather, both sides are aggressively promoting policies that support their respective interpretations.
For the United States, the most salient issue is finding ways to navigate this battleground over the status quo while upholding its one China policy, particularly the commitments that the United States made to China in the three joint U.S.-PRC communiqués and to Taiwan in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
Judith Norton, PhD, is the Managing Director of the East Asia Peace & Security Initiative. Norton worked in China for nearly a decade and was also a recipient of the ROC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan Fellowship.