In early 2019 relations across the Taiwan Strait began with a gathering in Beijing to commemorate the 40th anniversary of ‘The Message of Compatriots to Taiwan’ (which ended military confrontations between the two sides; see WiC436). Chinese President Xi Jinping called on Beijing and Taipei to start talks on unification by shaping a “Taiwan plan” under the “one country, two systems” principle.
The constitutional framework was first formulated by Beijing in the 1970s as a diplomatic solution to reunifying with Taiwan, although it was first applied in practice in Hong Kong, when China took over the former British colony’s sovereignty in 1997.
A year on from Xi’s call, Taiwan’s voters have delivered a major rejection of his vision of ‘national rejuvenation’ by awarding President Tsai Ing-wen a second term at the island’s elections last Saturday.
Tsai easily defeated her opponent Han Kuo-yu, whose Kuomintang Party (KMT) promotes closer ties with mainland China. The 63 year-old also led her more independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to a comfortable majority in the island’s legislature, which seemed a highly improbable scenario just a year ago. Opinion polls back then had shown support for Tsai dwindling to single-digit levels and the DPP suffered landslide losses in the 2018 by-election against the KMT (see WiC434).
In the event Tsai won more than 8.1 million votes, the most any candidate has garnered since direct elections were introduced in Taiwan 24 years ago. Han, who led Tsai by 20 percentage points in opinion polls at one point earlier last year, managed only 5.5 million votes, or 38.6% of the 14-million electorate.
The election wasn’t fought as a referendum on Taiwan independence but for many observers the result at least pointed to voters’ aversion to unification with China, while the Taipei Times said that Tsai had focused her campaign on a single theme – rejecting the “one country, two systems” model favoured by Xi.
Should the KMT fail at the next general election there is a real possibility that it dwindles into irrelevance. That’s why Su Chi, a former KMT legislator who claims to have coined the phrase “1992 consensus” (an understanding reached between the KMT and Communist Party of China in 1992 that both sides should adhere to the ‘one China’ principle), has suggested that the party has no choice but to reinvent its cross-Strait discourse to appeal to voters.
“Xi has called for a ‘Taiwan plan’ under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework. The KMT should come up with its own ‘unification proposal’ although it won’t be ‘one country, two systems’,” Su told United Daily News.
On the other side of the Taiwan Strait, patience seems to be running out. “We have one consistent line when it comes to Taiwan policy. We support ‘peaceful reunification’ and ‘one country, two systems’. We are strictly opposed to any separatist plot aiming at ‘Taiwanese independence’,” the People’s Daily made clear once again on Sunday, also warning against “foreign intervention” in China’s internal affairs.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang was even piqued that Washington had sent its congratulations to Tsai after the result became clear. “We oppose any form of official exchange between Taiwan and countries that have established diplomatic relations with China. There is only one China and Taiwan is part of China,” he insisted.
As to the landslide result, Xinhua complained that the DPP had used “cheating, repression and intimidation to get votes” and that “external dark forces” were partly responsible for the outcome.
Amid a growing chorus on social media for the use of force to bring Taiwan back into the fold, the editor of the more usually-belligerent Global Times took a nuanced view, saying that China wasn’t prepared to go to war to achieve unification. “Nevertheless, China is prepared to go to war to prevent Taiwan independence,” warned Hu Xijin on his personal weibo.
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