By William Johnson, Brian Bumpas & Marina Lleonart-Calvo —
Following Tsai Ing-wen’s election to the Taiwan presidency, narratives on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have referred to this time period as a “critical juncture” in cross-Strait relations. On Thursday, September 15, 2016, CSIS, the Brookings Institution and the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University in Taipei co-hosted the conference, “Cross-Strait Relations Under the Tsai Ing-wen Administration,” to discuss trends in cross-Strait relations since Tsai’s entry into office earlier this year.
At the conference, Taiwan officials reaffirmed that Tsai would seek to maintain the status quo. In his keynote speech, Deputy Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Lin Cheng-Yi used language consistent with President Tsai’s inaugural address. Rather than acknowledging the 1992 Consensus, Lin indicated Taiwan will continue to operate based on “the existing ROC constitutional order,” “the outcomes of the [sic] past twenty years of negotiations…and interactions across the Taiwan Strait,” and “the democratic principles and the will of the people of Taiwan.”
According to Lin, “opening the door for communication and consultation is the practical approach to handling cross-Strait relations.” He stated that although communication through senior-level formal channels has been halted since May, working-level communications between various ministries and agencies continue.
Among the three key panels, the theme and tone of analysis was one of moderation. Experts David Brown, Zhao Suisheng, Bonnie Glaser, and Richard Bush all agreed that Beijing, Taipei, and Washington have each acted as expected and have not engaged in any highly provocative actions. Additionally, scholar Yan Jiann-Fa stated that Tsai has taken several steps to “partially or completely meet the expectation[s] from Beijing… or from Washington,” He suggested that Beijing’s goal is not “to punish President Tsai and the new administration… [but to] show the potential consequences if President Tsai somewhat modifies her position.” In his analysis of China’s domestic political situation, CSIS Freeman Chair in China Studies Christopher Johnson echoed this analysis arguing, “Xi is firmly in control of Taiwan policy,” and is intently focused on consolidating support for his position in the upcoming Party Congress and revitalizing the economy. Johnson sees no internal political incentives for Xi to raise the pressure further against Tsai.
The conference addressed the ongoing concern about Taiwan’s vulnerability to China. Freeman Chair Deputy Director Scott Kennedy argued that although Taiwan depends on China and Hong Kong for about 40 percent of its exports, there is little evidence that such dependence has damaged Taiwan’s economy. To the contrary, industries with greater ties to China have greater growth in production, employment, and wages. Kennedy acknowledged that there are still several challenges that Taiwan must overcome, but the Tsai regime would do well to focus much of its energies on strengthening Taiwan’s internal economic challenges.
Watch the full event in video playlist here:
For Chinese-language media coverage of this event, please visit the following links:
Mr. William Johnson and Mr. Brian Bumpas are researchers with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. Ms. Marina Lleonart-Calvo is program coordinator and research assistant with the Freeman Chair.