Nuances of cross-strait relations

By Frank Ching

All signs are that president Ma Ying-jeou’s second term, which began May 20, will continue to see a strengthening of cross-strait economic relations but political talks between the two sides, even if they are held, are unlikely to be productive.

Beijing is concerned that the sense of Taiwanese identity is growing stronger despite improved cross-strait relations. A majority of people on the island now identify themselves as solely Taiwanese rather than as both Chinese and Taiwanese. The percentage of those who identify themselves as solely Chinese is in single digits. President Ma himself is doing what he can to reinforce a sense of Chinese identity. In April, he presided over a ceremony in honor of the Yellow Emperor, the mythical ancestor of the Han Chinese, and was immediately excoriated by opposition politicians who feared that he was paving the way for unification with China. While Beijing is generally pleased with the progress of the last four years, the pace is likely to be slower in the next four years. For one thing, both sides had agreed to tackle easy issues before difficult ones and the easy issues have by and large been resolved. Beijing has been willing to accommodate Ma during his first term, agreeing to a “diplomatic truce” under which it would not seek to win over countries that recognized Taiwan. This is likely to continue. The mainland is also willing to accept Ma’s definition of the status quo as one of “no unification, no independence and no use of force.” But Ma’s efforts to gain more “international space” will be an uphill climb. Taiwan has been an observer in the World Health Assembly since 2009, courtesy of Beijing, and now seeks participation in the International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.N. Convention on Climate Change. However, Beijing is wary of allowing Taiwan too much international space. For one thing, it does not want to create a situation of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” on the international stage. Beijing also realizes that the Kuomintang, Ma’s political party, will not remain in power indefinitely and is unwilling to grant benefits that will be enjoyed by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party if it returns to power.