Editorial : Taiwan Strait overshadowed by spectre of war

【明報專訊】THE day after Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), issued in Beijing the declaration that "the country must be unified and without doubt will be unified" on the 40th anniversary of the issuance of the "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan", four heavyweights in Taiwan's pro-independence camp published an open letter, calling on president Tsai Ing-wen to "give up her reelection bid" and "hand over the administrative power and take a back seat".

No sooner had the year 2019 begun than Tsai put forward the "four-must" argument that "China must pay proper regard to the fact that the Republic of China — Taiwan exists, must respect 23 million people's persistence in freedom and democracy, must handle the differences between both sides by putting both sides on an equal footing, and must (agree that) talks can only be held between governments and organisations with public power authorised by governments" in her New Year speech. She also proposed the creation of three lines of defence (security of people's livelihood, security of information and democracy) for exchanges across the strait. The speech marked her toughest stance on the issue since she took office. On the day Xi made his speech, Tsai responded resolutely by saying that Taiwan would not accept "One country, two systems" and that the Taiwanese public was overwhelmingly against "One country, two systems". As for Xi's suggestion that all parties and sectors across the strait recommend representatives to engage in democratic consultations, Tsai warned that no person or organisation had the power to represent Taiwan to take part in political consultations without the authorisation of the government.

Tsai's new stance stands in contrast with what she adopted early in her presidency, when she emphasised maintaining the status quo and adhering to the constitution of the Republic of China. This, of course, has to do with the international situation, particularly the changes in Sino-US relations. Over the past year, the US, in an attempt to contain China, has adopted one after another the National Defense Authorisation Act, the Taiwan Travel Act and other bills. Prior to the turn of the year, Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which drastically lifted restrictions on arms sales to Taiwan, official interactions between the US and Taiwan and military interactions. Mainland warplanes' and warships' circumnavigation of Taiwan, the setbacks suffered by the Democratic Progressive Party in its governance and its crushing defeat in the "nine-in-one" elections over the past year have also contributed to the toughening of Tsai's cross-strait policies.

But to the eyes of deep-green proponents of independence, Tsai's postures are still not aggressive enough. That was why Wu Li-pei, Peng Ming-min (former Senior Adviser to the Taiwanese President), Reverend Dr Chun-Ming Kao (a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan) and Yuan Tseh Lee (former President of the Academia Sinica), four veteran pro-independence politicians, published the open letter trying to force Tsai to renounce power.

Sandwiched between the unveiling of mainland China's timetable for unification and the pro-independence camp's anxiety-driven push to seek hasty independence, Tsai, facing the crisis of a showdown between the pro-unification and pro-independence camps, has little room for manoeuvre with one year or so remaining in her presidency. Meanwhile the US has seen vastly expanded room to take advantage of the cross-strait situation. As the Taiwan Strait is once again one of the few tinderboxes in the world, cross-strait relations are under the gravest threat since the Taiwan Strait crisis in the mid-1990s.

明報社評2019.01.07:京促統台獨派逼宮 台海上空戰雲密佈







take a back seat : to allow sb else to play a more active and important role in a particular situation than you do

the turn of the year : the time when a new year starts

circumnavigation : the act of sailing, flying, or travelling completely around the Earth, an island etc

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