Friday was a deeply emotional day for me. President-elect Tsai became President Tsai, a tremendously satisfying event. I managed to watch a bit of the ceremony. Then came home in the afternoon and found out our beloved Golden Retriever's kidneys had failed and he had to be euthanized. That was wretched. So I didn't post on Saturday. Kinda took the wind out of my blogging sails.
There is actually not that much to say, everyone already said it....
I was holding off posting this because I was waiting for my man Michal Thim's excellent piece to come out in SCMP. He noted, like everyone except a few people who weren't paying attention, that Tsai did not affirm or acknowledge the faux "1992 Consensus". Instead...
Instead, she referred to cross-strait arrangements using ambiguous wording. Primarily, she noted that in 1992, “the two institutions representing each side across the strait ... arrived at various joint acknowledgements and understandings”. “Since 1992, over 20 years of interactions and negotiations across the strait have enabled and accumulated outcomes which both sides must collectively cherish and sustain; and it is based on such existing realities and political foundations that the stable and peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship must be continuously promoted,” she said.Tsai left Beijing "considerable room". Thim noted what many of us have long said: because Chinese links in Taiwan are links to the KMT and its patronage networks and allies...
This may not be exactly what Beijing wants to hear but ambiguity in diplomatic speech is often of greater value than clarity. Tsai did not refer to “one China”, yet she also did not explicitly declare that cross-strait ties are relations between two sovereign states.
Whatever punishment Beijing may come up with to express its displeasure with the new administration, the first to suffer will be the KMT-linked local power holders and businesses.Thim ends excellently:
Cross-strait relations could very well become full of conflict but, this time, Taiwan would not be seen as the troublemaker; it would be just another neighbour with strained relations. It does not have to be that way, though. Tsai’s speech offers enough space to step back and embrace the ambiguity. The ball is in Beijing’s court.Many observers noted that Beijing's response that Tsai had turned in an "incomplete answer sheet" on the 1992 Consensus actually could be taken to mean that she at least had given some of the answers. The public, which knows that acceptance of the 1992 Consensus means acceptance that Taiwan is part of China, supports her position overwhelmingly, according to a poll from the Deep Blue TVBS.
Beijing gives every appearance of not having a Taiwan policy. Its first move was to threaten to "suspend talks".
Meanwhile, Beijing’s semi-official intermediary for discussing cross-strait relations, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), said that if Tsai wanted negotiations with its Taiwanese counterpart, the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) to continue, Taiwanese authorities needed to endorse the SEF to declare adherence to the 1992 consensus.The international media spotted that for the clickbait it was, and ran with it. But of course, the talks it threatens to suspend are precisely those talks that have no material effect on things -- the least important of the many discourses Beijing has with Taiwan.
Beijing could say that Chen Shui-bian was "provocative" and break off talks. In those days Taiwanese built factories in China and shipped stuff out. The vast range of engagement Beijing now has with Taiwan didn't exist. Now it talks to Taipei about everything from crime to high finance (wait, those are the same thing, let me find another one)... from crime to education to tourism, you name it. The KMT and CCP have many links, and politicians from the DPP travel to China and engage with officials there, as well as quietly run businesses, so the story goes (shhhhh). Businessmen, artists, and tourists shuttle back and forth. Talks? They make great media copy....
Beijing does the same thing with the US -- it threatens to break off mil-mil relations, since those have zero cost to Beijing and the US for some comic, bizarre reason thinks they are really, really important. The US response to China's threats to cut off military relations reminds me of the alien from Men in Black at that moment when the alien is about to escape and suddenly Will Smith threatens a cockroach: "Is that your uncle?"
Meanwhile the really important costly punishments involving trade or finance are never meted out. Bejing does not want to pay those costs.
In case you wondering what Tsai actually said compared to Ma, Ben Goren at Letters from Taiwan did a statistical analysis. Very informative.
New Bloom had a fantastic run-down on the ceremony and the presentation of history, including the patronizing, offensive remarks of the emcee. From what I could see, the DPP apparently attempted to subsume the entire history of resistance to KMT rule into a narrative that located the tangwai politicians who became the DPP at the center, which rankled various groups. It has learned little, still presenting ethnic relations in conventional, Han chauvinist terms. In the long run this will cost it, unless it grows up quickly.
Richard Bush at Brookings argues that it could have been worse, and finishes...
The not-so-good news is that the situation between the two sides remains delicate. China has other actions it can take to convey its dissatisfaction. Beijing and Taipei have gotten past the milestone of Tsai’s inauguration without triggering an immediate deterioration, but they have not fully stabilized their relations. This is only a beginning, and what will be needed going forward is a process of incremental trust-building through reciprocal and positive words and deeds. A number of outstanding issues remain to be addressed, and unexpected events can very easily derail progress. As a start, however, this isn’t bad.It is apparently indelicate to point this out, but as long as China holds a gun to Taiwan's head, trust will never be built and the situation will never be stabilized.
Additional Nelson Report commentary -- click on READ MORE:
PRES. TSAI'S INAUGURAL...Loyal Reader reaction that came in too late to use Friday...first, Smith College guru Steve Goldstein, then Patrick Cronin, CNAS:
Taiwan's New President: the Inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen and Beijing's Reaction
Steven Goldstein, Sophia Smith Professor of Government at Smith College and Director of the Taiwan Studies Workshop at the Fairbank Center, examines what comes next for Taiwan's first female president and cross-strait relations.
Tsai Ing-wen's inaugural address and Beijing's reaction have done nothing more than to confirm what has been evident for the past few months: cross-strait relations are entering a period of stalemate.
The mainland's position, reaffirmed in the post-inaugural statement of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, found that Tsai had failed to "explicitly recognize" the 1992 consensus and its "core meaning" that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China that had been the foundation for peaceful development in the past. This omission was said to represent an "incomplete test paper" (meiyou wancheng de dajuan 沒有完成的答卷).
It has been clear for some time that Tsai would likely fail to pass the mainland's test. The political realities in Taiwan, primarily those within Tsai's own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as well as the broader base of public opinion, made it unlikely that these conditions would be met. Given these political constraints, her pre-inauguration statements simply recognized that the 1992 meetings were made possible by an agreement to set aside differences and seek common ground while pledging to maintain a peaceful status quo. Her inaugural address did little more to meet mainland demands.
Now that the stalemate has been confirmed by Tsai's speech, the next move is Beijing's. It must demonstrate its dissatisfaction with Tsai's position, but how will it do so?
In its pre-inaugural statements, Beijing threatened a number of sanctions that would result from Tsai's failure meet its conditions. These ranged from specifics, such as limiting Taiwan's participation in international organizations, to suspending the cross-strait meetings of the past, to more general warnings that Beijing would oppose Taiwanese independence in "any form."
In the early days of the Chen Shui-bian administration, the mainland spoke of listening to Chen's words and watching his actions. However, in the view of many observers, Beijing had already made up its mind and very quickly abandoned any trust in Chen. Tsai Ing-wen is deeply distrusted by mainland commentators on Taiwan-in the view of some, even more so than had been the case with Chen. Will it behave similarly in the early days of the Tsai administration, or will it be restrained and look for possible avenues of constructive discussion? Beijing is not averse to pursuing ambiguous formulations (the example of the 1992 consensus is the best example) when it is seen as in their interest. Could this be an element in its response to Tsai's administration? And what might Tsai's reaction be?
There are clearly incentives for both sides to seek some basis for modus vivendi and to avoid a crisis. Good relations with the mainland are important to Taiwan. They are essential for Taiwan's overall security; for the development of its economy; its future in the emerging economic architecture in Asia; and its relationship with the United States. Beijing also has an interest in acting with restraint. Taiwan investment continues to be an important element in the mainland economy; there still appears to be hope that the mainland can win "the hearts and minds of the Chinese people; and finally, the impact on already complicated Sino-American relations must be considered by China's leadership.
Still, the political constraints on either side's changing positions are considerable. Reunification with Taiwan is a key element in Xi Jingping's "China Dream." What kind of "national rejuvenation" can be accomplished if Taiwan drifts away? The last three years of the Ma Ying-jeou administration revealed a Taiwan public that deeply distrusted his rapprochement with the mainland. Although Tsai seems to enjoy greater public trust in negotiating with the mainland, that deep distrust remains.
In the months ahead both sides of the Taiwan Strait must act with restraint in a continuingly fragile situation. Too sharp a reaction to a seemingly inevitable downturn in relations from either side could be met with a provocative response from the other, and that would lead to a quickly escalating crisis situation in an already tense East Asia.
PATRICK CRONIN, CNAS:
President Tsai stresses the need to maintain persistent and adequate channels of communication with the leadership in Beijing. Such channels were realized by inserting certain agreeable phrases into her inaugural speech: viz., the desire not to let "old baggage" interfere with progress.
Clearly President Tsai believes the level, frequency, and depth of such communications are the best means of avoiding a glide path towards or over China's red lines. Calibrating this just right is not easy but the first indicator was positive: China did not block her sending a delegation to observe the World Health Assembly in Geneva. China remains ready to close down political space for Taiwan should it be displeased with the direction of the new DPP administration's policy, and the apparent fact that it did not is an early indicator that she is calibrating Beijing's appetite for cooperation/confrontation about right.
But there are numerous risks moving forward, and arguably only a matter of time before there is the decisions get much more acute and time sensitive (i.e., a crisis).
First, there is Xi himself. He is at once decision-maker in chief and yet strangely isolated from a critical circle of thinkers. What is Xi's appetite for allowing the new DPP-led administration to skirt this basic issue of principle?
Second, there is the economy. Tsai has promised to solve basic economic and other domestic problems to her broad coalition of constituents, and these issues are both affected by relations with the mainland and distractions from it. She knows Beijing is squeezing tourism, agricultural trade, and perhaps other areas, but she is hoping to compensate with a diversified set of economic relations with Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan, Europe, the United States, and others. With the economy already technically in recession, she starts from a significant disadvantage.
And third, there are events. From the forthcoming arbitration ruling to other regional flashpoint and global crises that may divert attention of major powers, the evolving context of China-US relations, China relations with the region, and the political will and capacity of the United States, are but three vectors that could disrupt President Tsai's more pragmatic, problem-solving approach to managing relations with Beijing.
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