The United States will be further drawn into the Taiwan issue in the wake of President XI Jinping’s summit with President Barack Obama, according to Richard C. Bush III, Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.
China is preparing for January’s presidential and legislative elections. Leading in the polls is Tsai Ing-wen pose of the Democratic Progressive Party, which Beijing fears will challenge its commitment to further opening Taiwan’s economy and eventually unifying with the island.
Bush stresses that Tsai is in a strong position to become China’s first female president and win a majority in the legislative Yuan.
Xi will likely attempt to persuade Obama to side with him against the DDP.
However, Bush says Tsai’s public stance on Taiwan generally reflects her supposed commitment to keeping the status quo and protecting the policies of the current Ma Ying-jeou administration.
Beijing, however, thinks her measure is a ruse.
In a blog post for the Brookings Institute, Bush wrote that Beijing fears Tsai will “covertly” create an independent Taiwan.
China has publicly stated how it would respond to a Tsai victory. This includes suspending channels facilitating cross-Strait economic cooperation. Foreign observers suspect China would also steal away some of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to further restrict its access to international organizations.
In such an event, the DPP could pressure Tsai to react at least symbolically, further supporting China’s view that she can’t be trusted. In a resulting downward spiral, Bush says both sides will seek U.S. support.
So, how should the U.S. react?
Bush suggests Washington should spend the four-month period between election and inauguration trying to find common ground between the two sides, while exploring ways to manage differences.
“The policies of a DPP government might cause a reversal in cross-Strait relations, but how China reacts will be crucial,” states Bush. “Beijing’s interests are best served not by backing itself into a corner but by keeping options open.”.