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The Cai Government and the Cross-Strait Relations
 Source:Centre for Strategic Thinking   Views:934 Updated:2021-03-09

Over the past few months, the Cai government has encountered a series of diplomatic difficulties with both the Mainland and the United States. These can be started from Taiwan’s buying of the U.S. lean pork. For quite a long time the Cai government hadn’t given a green light to the U.S. lean pork meat, as this issue had been very disputable within the Taiwan society, and the public had been strongly opposed to that. Nevertheless, the Cai government ignored people’s concern and interest to have finally made a decision to buy the lean pork, mostly because it unilaterally assumed that this move was conducive to Taiwan’s interest - more accurately to the interest of the DPP and of the Cai government - and it can help gain more substantial support of the United States. Unfortunately, this appeasement policy failed to get what the Cai government anticipated.


After the U.S. election, the Cai government made further attempt to approach the U.S. side. Yet, the U.S. new administration generally has downplayed the warmth of the Cai government. After the new government took office, the White House reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the One China policy. Also, the new president for the first time named the Taiwan local government as a democratically-elected representative. Later in an interview programme with the CNN on 16 February, the U.S. president indicated that he would not speak out against China’s stance and doing concerning the One China policy. Though there have been different voices within the U.S. on the Taiwan issue, the series of claims recently made by the U.S. government have already exhibited the failure of the Taiwan local government’s illegitimate diplomatic attempt.


Apart from the uneasiness encountered with the U.S., due to the Cai government improper handling of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine as well as of Taiwan’s export of pineapple to the Mainland, the Cai government has put Taiwan in a more troublesome situation.


Against the above context, what will be the likely development of the Cross-Strait relations? What approach would the Cai government likely take further? And how would the Chinese authority possibly respond?


Likely Development of the Cross-Strait Relations


Generally, since Cai took office, the Cross-Strait relations has been in a contentious situation. The reason of that is very obvious - the Cai government refuses to recognize the One China principle, even though Taiwan is not recognized as a sovereign state internationally. Besides that, the Cai government has taken a series of steps to cut the cultural and historical connection between the Mainland and Taiwan, to mislead the Taiwan public, and to legalize Taiwan independence. Apart from that, at the international stage, it has sought to engage more closely with some foreign forces in expecting to rely on them to expand Taiwan’s acting space. However, the Cai government appeasement policy toward certain foreign forces, in contrast to its hard approach toward the Mainland, so far has made little difference in terms of raising Taiwan’s profile and of altering its external environment.


Under these circumstances, the Cai government may adjust its approach a bit, in particular, toward the Mainland. More precisely, the Cai government may tend to play “two hands” - on the one hand, it would continue to adopt an appeasement approach toward certain foreign forces; on the other hand, the Cai government may soften its approach toward the Mainland, mainly because the internal and external situation has made the Cai government see the urgency to find a workable approach to help sustain Taiwan’s economic growth as well as to deal with other various challenges faced by Taiwan.


Among various cooperation frameworks, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between the Mainland and Taiwan in 2010 has served as the most crucial mechanism in linking the Cross-Strait economic exchanges and cooperation over the past years.


Back in 2005, upon the historical visit of the former KMT party leader Lian Zhan to the Mainland, then Chinese President Hu and Lian reached a brief common understanding on the necessity of deepening the Cross-Strait economic exchanges and cooperation through jointly establishing an economic cooperation mechanism. Then in 2008 when the world was being swept by the global financial crises, Taiwan officially proposed to establish such a mechanism with the Mainland named ECFA. Within only 2 years, the negotiation had been completed. The ECFA was signed on 29 June 2010, and formally came into force on 12 September 2010.1 


Over the past 10 years, under the ECFA, the Mainland has offered good terms to Taiwan in various ways. Taiwan’s trade surplus with the Mainland has kept growing. Among the top 4 countries and regions - China’s Taiwan province, Australia, South Korea, and Japan - which had secured trade surpluses with China, China’s Taiwan province was on the top in the list. Taiwan’s exports to and imports from the Mainland in 2019 reached 173.00 Billion USD and 55.08 Billion USD respectively, with a surplus of 117.92 Billion USD,2 which was more than the amount by putting Australia’s (48.83 Billion USD)3 and South Korea’s (28.994 Billion USD)4 together.


In 2020, even though the world suffered from the Coronavirus, Taiwan’s trade performed well. Its total exports in 2020 increased by 4.9% to 345.276 Billion USD, and imports were up by 0.3% to 286.486 Billion USD, with a trade surplus of 58.79 Billion USD. Yet by excluding Taiwan’s trade surplus with the Mainland and China’s Hong Kong together, accounting for 86.673 Billion USD, Taiwan had a trade deficit in 2020.5 


It is worth notifying that Taiwan’s economy heavily relies on trade, the Taiwan products are generally not highly competitive compared to other similar replacements in the regional and international markets. Therefore, Taiwan’s economic growth over the years very much has depended on the favourable policies offered by the Mainland.


Nevertheless, since Cai assumed office, the Cai government has taken a hostile approach toward the Mainland, mostly because the Cai government believed that it has a big leeway to act – economically, the ECFA has functioned well, and Taiwan’s economy has kept growing. Partly due to the relatively well-performed economy, Cai had gained more popularity among the Taiwan public, which helped her win a second term.


From the foreign and security aspect, the Cai government has made numerous attempts to raise Taiwan’s status. However, instead of having expanded Taiwan’s diplomatic space by doing so, during the first three years of Cai’s tenure till October 2019, another 7 countries had cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.


In addition to that, the escalation of the Cross-Strait relations would likely generate implications to Taiwan’s economy. If Taiwan’s economy gets worse, whether the DPP and the Cai government are still able to win more public support should be a big question.  


Therefore, the internal and external economic, foreign, and security environments culminated in Cai’s decision of sending a new year greeting to the people living in the Mainland upon the Chinese lunar new year. Cai was also hopeful of having a dialogue with the Chinese authority based on an equal status.


Then, based on the above series of analysis, what might be the next? How could the Chinese authority handle the current situation, and the Cross-Strait relations from a broader sense?


Measures for Handling the Cross-Strait Relations


Over the past years, the Mainland has generally held a restrained attitude toward the Cai government’s behaviour. Apart from the previously existed favourable policies offered to Taiwan, the Mainland has taken various new means to promote the exchanges and communication between the two sides. For instance, it has issued a range of targeted policies and measures to facilitate more convenience for Taiwan people living and working in the Mainland. The main purpose of all the generous policies and measures offered by the Mainland was supposed to create more favourable conditions for Taiwan and the Mainland to make joint efforts to lead to unification ultimately.


However, the Cai government has taken various kinds of measures to prevent the normalization of the Cross-Strait exchanges and communication. In the meantime, the Taiwan separatist forces and certain pro-independence local media have kept misleading and brainwashing the Taiwan local people through denigrating the Mainland in various means.


Under these circumstances, China may consider withdrawing some of the benefits offered to Taiwan. However, instead of suspending most of the favourable policies at the same time, the Chinese authority in the coming steps would more likely take certain specific or targeted measures to deal with the Cross-Strait relations concerning a diverse range of issues. Meanwhile, what favourable measures would still be in place in the coming years would mainly depend on the likely development of the Cross-Strait relations.


Very recently, the Mainland has suspended the imports of Taiwan’s pineapple due to a quality problem. In the past, the Mainland could have just taken a tolerable attitude toward the similar issue. Nonetheless, this time the Mainland made a quick move to suspend the imports of pineapple from Taiwan. Some analysts indicated that this can be considered as a warning to the Cai government. In the coming steps, more tightening measures should be in place, if the Cai government continues its hard stance toward the Mainland.


On security, Chinese officials have in different occasions made clear that China would never compromise on its sovereignty. Over the past few months, China has regularly sent military aircraft to be patrolling around the Taiwan Strait. The main purpose of doing so can be seen as a response to certain activities conducted by the Cai government. It also tended to show China’s determination to defend its sovereignty and national security.


The Taiwan issue is directly concerning China’s core interest. There is a need for all relevant sides to understand the seriousness and sensitivity of this issue. Whether China would have more patrol activities, and how the security situation in the Taiwan Strait would evolve are yet to be seen. One of the possibilities could be that if the Cai government would choose to go on to the right direction, the coming few years should be a critical time for the Mainland and Taiwan to seek some new breakthroughs in jointly addressing their two-way concerns, and leading the Cross-Strait relations to a right direction. There is a necessity for the Cai government to adjust its policy direction, which is the fundamental problem having affected the development of the Cross-Strait relations. Going on to the correct path would mean more certainties to the future of the DPP, of the Cross-Strait relations, and of Taiwan.


With regard to the handling of the Taiwan separatist forces, the Chinese authority recently has been preparing to issue a set of targeted measures. More specifically, China is planning to create a list to include the various Taiwan separatist forces, groups, entities, organizations, and individuals as well as the financial supporters to all kinds of Taiwan secessionist behaviour and activities. The creation of such list should be based on the adherence to China’s Anti-Secession Law, Criminal Law, and National Security Law. The maximum penalty to those who seek Taiwan independence is life imprisonment. Many analysts believed that issuing this kind of targeted measure should be a very effective way to deal with the rampant Taiwan separatist forces, and further to contribute to the great course of reunification.  


For the political parties in Taiwan, the Chinese government would hold an open attitude to all the political parties including the DPP. The Cai government has expressed its intention to have a dialogue with the Chinese authority. It is in need for the DPP and the Cai government to understand that, only by adjusting the party’s direction and the series of local government policies, and then working together with the Mainland toward unification, official dialogue and communication between the Mainland and Taiwan can be possible.


On 24 October 2020, an opinion poll released by the Taiwan Institute of International Strategy showed that 90.4% of the people living in Taiwan anticipated a peaceful development of the Cross-Strait relations. The same opinion survey also indicated that only 13.5% of the Taiwan people preferred Taiwan independence.6 This survey result can be the most serious hit to a misleading claim having long been held by some Taiwan politicians, certain media, and the Taiwan separatist forces that “nowadays there are more people in Taiwan wanting Taiwan independence.” 


The Mainland would devote more efforts to promote exchanges, communication, and cooperation between the Mainland and Taiwan through a wide range of networks including various organizations, groups, businesses, think tanks, universities, and individuals etc, which are committed to the peaceful development of the Cross-Strait relations, to the well-being of the people living in both the Mainland and Taiwan, and to the great undertaking of unification. The united front work needs to be further strengthened.










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