Taiwan is in the heat of a presidential campaign, and its cross-Strait policy is arguably the most headline-grabbing issue in the region. President Ying-jeou Ma’s mainland policy has achieved three years’ worth of stability for the Asian-Pacific region, and if he wins reelection in January, that stability can probably endure even longer.
But the region is facing a great deal of change, and the possibility of chaos is real. There will be at least seven major countries with general elections and leadership changes in 2012, including Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, the United States, and the Chinese mainland. Taiwan’s result will be one of those critical to the future of the region.
The structural factors that contribute to the stability of the China-Taiwan relationship stem from three different policy lines coming out of Taiwan, China, and the United States. For Taipei, when Ma won his 2008 campaign, he didn’t hesitate to construct a policy of “maintaining cross-Strait stability” according to his party platform. That platform was based on the 1992 Consensus, in which Beijing and Taipei agreed that there’s one China, but that each side has its own interpretation of what that means. That policy line helped eliminate the instability caused by the “one country on each side” principle that was raised by Ma’s predecessors from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). It implied that China and Taiwan were separate countries, not just two political spheres within one country.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In Beijing, almost immediately after Ma won the presidency, there was a great debate over China’s Taiwan policy. Policymakers wondered whether Beijing should push Taiwan toward unification or maintain the current stage of cross-Strait peaceful development. Chinese President Hu Jintao prudently concluded that the character of current cross-Strait relations should be fixed on anti-independence rather than a push for unification, suggesting that the policy of “cross-Strait peaceful development” should remain intact.
Last but not least was Washington’s policy. The United States, as the most important player in the region, has been trying to maintain the status quo.
So, a stable framework was constructed through a vague saddle point to keep the current cross-Strait situation from descending into chaos: Taipei acted to maintain cross-Strait stability; Beijing promoted cross-Strait peaceful development; and Washington sought to maintain the status quo. The stability is no longer abstract, but has a distinct structure, though that framework is still fragile and each side still has to learn how to trust the others.