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China reaches for the boomerang

China reaches for the boomerang

Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s 12-day six-city tour of the United States has been the focus of attention, not just of her own supporters, but of an ever-widening circle of observers and outsiders.
The interest is understandable, since virtually all recent opinion polls identify her as the frontrunner in the January 16, 2016 election, no matter whom the ruling Kuomintang eventually decides to nominate.
Tsai has met with top Obama Administration officials, senior members of Congress, and prominent academics, indicating how high the attention is that the US political establishment is paying to the opposition leader.
If she wins, Tsai will not only be the first-ever woman president to govern Taiwan, but also only the second from the DPP to come to power. The differences with her predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, who ruled from 2000 to 2008, are what US leaders want to find out.
Even though Chen was lauded as a democratic reformer and paid visits to the US on his way to Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, some aspects of his rule worried the administration of then-President George W. Bush.
Chen had tried to establish a balanced relationship with China, but the communist leaders in Beijing decided to turn away and play rough, relying instead of strongly inimical moves such as the passage of an Anti-Secession Law and the gradual installation of hundreds of missiles targeting Taiwan.
In the meantime, both countries continued to try and steal away each other’s diplomatic allies, with Chen paying unexpected visits to countries still recognizing Beijing as the only legal government of a One China including Taiwan.
The Taiwanese president also infuriated Beijing by holding referendums. While those stayed away from issues of independence or unification, they were a warning that Taiwan could eventually hold a “defensive” referendum if China became too aggressive.
While Chen’s moves were reasonable if one considered the general environment at the time, he was blamed for being a “troublemaker” and for disrupting relations with China and, according to some observers, for posing a threat to stability in the region.
The Chen period is one of the reasons why Tsai’s visit to the US has been described as a “test” or even as an “examination” by some commentators. According to this scenario, Tsai has to prove that her eventual government will not repeat the alleged confrontational acts of the Chen era.
Tsai and the DPP have emphasized that there is no question of a test, and that her trip just centers on the defense of common values such as democracy, freedom and human rights.
Tsai’s message has clearly not been understood by China, since its ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, said she should face a test from the 1.3 billion people of China instead of traveling overseas and putting her case to a foreign audience. The DPP leader should be talking to “her own compatriots” on the mainland instead, according to Cui.
The suggestion not only provoked indignation from the DPP, but even Mainland Affairs Council Minister Andrew Hsia described it as inappropriate. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published as Tsai arrived in Washington, D.C., she said she wanted to establish transparent channels of communication between the DPP and China, but also between her eventual administration and the people of Taiwan. Tsai emphasized her government would emphasize peace and stability as well as a continuation of dialogue and cooperation on cross-straits affairs.
In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, she again mentioned the need for continuity and for the pursuing of peaceful relations between Taiwan and China.
Before heading for the US, Tsai seemed to be going too far in the direction of stability by advocating the status quo. The phrase caused unease among traditional Taiwan Independence supporters because of its previous frequent use by KMT leaders.
Defending the status quo to previous governments meant keeping the country away from any attempts at Taiwan Independence, while under Tsai’s new interpretation, it is more likely to mean stopping the drift toward unification and over-reliance on China that has occurred under the past seven years of Ma’s rule.
For Cui to suggest that any Taiwanese political leader should be tested by the 1.3 billion residents of the People’s Republic of China sounds even more ludicrous when one knows that even its own leaders never face any test of democracy, namely direct and democratic elections.
The 1.3 billion people of China have no say in deciding who should be their president or premier, so how could they even be allowed to have any claim to a say over what happens in Taiwan?
It’s even more worth to bear in mind that the ambassador’s comments came close to the 26th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Incident, a reminder if ever there was one of how little China’s leaders care about the opinions of its people.
The only test Tsai needs to face happens next January 16, when Taiwan’s 23 million people will have a say in whether she can rule the country for the following four years or her KMT opponent should.
The prospects for relations with China after she is eventually inaugurated on May 20 next year will form a key element of the presidential election campaign, but only the people of Taiwan, not the elites in Beijing or Washington, will decide.
Cui’s brazen demand for Tsai’s “compatriots” to have a say in her policies for Taiwan show that despite some appearances, the Beijing leadership still has not adapted its basic views of the island and of its political forces. It still sees Taiwan and the DPP as subordinate units which have to go and pay tribute to the only center of power, Beijing.
Cui’s call for Tsai to face a test from the people of China sounds like the latest move in a tradition of communist leaders trying to influence Taiwanese presidential elections going back two decades.
The tradition started with the firing of missiles as a warning against the Taiwanese people electing President Lee Teng-hui in its first direct presidential election in 1996. The intimidation continued in 2000, when the DPP’s Chen became the first president from the DPP, and in 2004, when he was re-elected by a narrow margin.
The lesson to be learned from those Chinese attempts at meddling in Taiwan’s politics is that the end result is always the opposite of what Beijing wants.
If Cui’s words show that China is again reaching for the boomerang, it should be taught that the result will be no different this time. The boomerang is again likely to end up in the face of the one who throws it.


Updated : 2021-09-19 16:33 GMT+08:00