Taiwan’s momentous shift in governance will occur tomorrow when pro-independence President-elect Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will take over office.
However, mainland China will not let this happen without a fight – this time, in the form of mounting pressure on Tsai to acknowledge the “One-China” policy before assuming office.
Tsai won the election by a landslide in January, ousting the long-standing Nationalist Party (KMT) from their stronghold rule over Taiwan. The Nationalist-run government was considerably China-friendly, though that had not always been the case. When the Chinese Communist Party took power in the mainland in 1949, the Nationalists were forced to retreat to Taiwan (formally, the Republic of China). There has never been armistice established nor a peace treaty signed between the two; the CCP considers Taiwan a breakaway province that can be re-taken by force if it wants.
The immense tension following the retreat and establishment of a self-ruled Taiwan was mollified somewhat in 2008 when the Nationalists and current leader (at least for one more day) Ma Ying-jeou recognized the “1992 Consensus”. The “1992 Consensus” refers to an unspoken understanding that year between the Nationalists and the Chinese Communist Party that there is only one China, but each may have their own interpretations of what that means.
President-elect Tsai has yet to acknowledge this – and it is inflaming China.
At a news briefing earlier this month, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang stressed that China and Taiwan must operate on the principle of the policy.
“We must repeat, if there is deadlock or a crisis across the Taiwan Strait, the responsibility will be on those who change the status quo,” Ma wrote in a transcript on the office’s website.
Since Tsai’s monumental victory, the months leading up to her inauguration have been filled with fierce strain coming from China’s government. That pressure continued Monday when the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported a phone call between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and United States Secretary of State John Kerry in which Wang urged the U.S. to “abide by the One-China policy” and “properly handle the Taiwan issue,” according to CNBC.
In another example of applying considerable pressure on the island, China forcibly repatriated Taiwanese suspected of fraud from Malaysia and Kenya in April.
Taiwanese criminals “have been falsely presenting themselves as law enforcement officers to extort money from people on the Chinese mainland through telephone calls,” China’s Ministry of Public Security announced.
In March, Chinese military commemorated a major conquest over Taiwan’s Nationalist forces in 1949.
Also in March, China warned Taiwan not to pass new laws governing relations with China, CNBC reports.
Some experts’ take on the situation:
Katherine Tseng, a researcher at National University of Singapore who specializes in international law and cross-strait relations, commented on this saying, “They are telling Taiwan that they need to play the game by Beijing’s playbook and are using every tactic they have.”
“To the nationalists, Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, it is the last bastion of resistance against imperialism and that refers to America. They are pushing Beijing: ‘this is what you told us in the textbooks, you can’t let it go’,” she added.
Mark Harrison, a Taiwan specialist at the University of Tasmania in Australia, cautioned reading too much into China’s gambit. “The key pressure point that Chia is likely to continue applying to Tsai is her to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus,” he said.
Harrison went on to to say that Taiwan is retorting back to China, asking the mainland “to give it a bit of breathing space and present itself as more reasonable and accommodative for some equilibrium in the relationship.”
Tsai Ing-wen publicly maintains that she will keep the status quo. However, both experts say she will likely continue a to take a passive stance on the China-Taiwan relationship – at least in the short-term – as she focuses on local issues.
“It is too early to see whether there will be a change in China’s policies towards Taiwan. China must have foreseen DPP coming into power and yet they didn’t change their policies in preparation, so there is no sign that they have a new policy position that they are ready to implement,” said Harrison.