Nationalist Tsai faces nationalist Xi

By Frank Ching

During the campaign leading up to the Jan. 16 elections, Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), took part in singing the national anthem at public events, but her lips visibly stopped moving when it came to the words “our party,” since they referred to the Kuomintang (KMT), which had been in power in Taiwan since the 1940s, save for eight years.

It is striking, therefore, that in her victory address, Tsai, who will be the first woman to be president when she assumes office May 20, repeatedly used the name Republic of China as that of the country that she will be governing, spurning the DPP’s historical stance of creating an independent Republic of Taiwan, separate from China. Even more striking was her calling herself “the 14th president-elect of the Republic of China,” making her a direct political descendant of Chiang Kai-shek, who fled to Taiwan with his government after losing the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and who ruled Taiwan under martial law until his death, imprisoning or executing those suspected of being advocates of Taiwan independence. That is being pragmatic — and smart. After all, there is no way of creating a Taiwanese republic without provoking a major response from Beijing, including military measures, and the world will say that Taiwan provoked such action. The only realistic option is to accept the Republic of China, lock, stock and barrel — including the flag and anthem and including the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu as well as Taiping in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

That is also a smart move because it is the least provocative in Beijing’s eyes. Any attempt to cloak Taiwan’s historical links with mainland China will be viewed with suspicion in Beijing. This way, Tsai and the DPP accept reality and in effect invite Beijing to do likewise. The Chinese Civil War is over. Taiwan is a democracy. Tsai made it clear during the campaign that her policy was to maintain the cross-strait status quo. Beijing wants her to accept the “1992 Consensus” under which both the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party agreed there was only “one China” but differed as to its definition. So far, Tsai has not endorsed this concept but she has recognized “the 1992 meeting,” which was held in Hong Kong. Will Beijing be willing to accept some other form of words, such as recognizing the outcome of the 1992 meeting, without necessarily using the word “Consensus?”