Is Cross-Strait Honeymoon Over?
Image Credit: Office of the Taiwanese President

Is Cross-Strait Honeymoon Over?


The thaw in cross-Strait relations during Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s first term was unprecedented – but the honeymoon period may soon be over.
The rapid expansion of ties between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) governments were established through seven rounds of bilateral talks, 16 agreements, and one “consensus” on cross-Strait investments. Concomitantly, people-to-people exchanges have increased exponentially as the two sides negotiate terms of engagement. But while the KMT and CCP agree upon the need to institutionalize cross-Strait ties on the basis of the so-called “1992 Consensus,” other sensitive political issues were shelved in the interim. Now, despite the bilateral public displays of camaraderie by political leaders, who tout the positive-positive gains of engagement, the deeply rooted political distrust that Presidents Ma and Hu Jintao brushed aside during the past four years is quickly coming to the fore.

Only months after Ma’s re-election, and as a heated power struggle plays out in Zhongnanhai prior to the 18th Party Congress, the emergence of divergent expectations for cross-Strait engagement may prove challenging to manage. Beijing deliberately toned down calls for political dialogue during the Taiwan election season, but now appears to be increasing pressure on the Ma administration to enter into political negotiations. This issue was thrown into sharp relief by the Ma administration’s rebuke of Beijing’s latest call for the establishment of a Pingtan Cross-Strait Experimental Region project.

The CCP first raised this idea of a jointly developed zone during a party meeting in Fujian Province in 2003. The plan evolved over the years as high-level Chinese officials – including Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao – expressed their support for and intention to develop the Pingtan area into a showcase for its Taiwan policy. According to Beijing’s latest proposal, both governments would administer the region under a “five joint” model: joint planning, joint development, joint establishment, joint management, and joint benefactor.

In response, Mainland Affairs Council spokesman Liu Te-shun stated that China inserted “too much of a political overtone into the Pingtan project, which in fact was designed in accordance with its “12th five-year plan” that handles cross-Strait relationships under the principle of the “one country, two systems” formula.”

The Ma administration’s negative reaction to the proposed Pingtan project suggests that it is increasingly concerned over the pace and expanding scope of cross-Strait engagement. Following his re-election this January, Ma had stated that “with mainland relations, we will work on the economy first and politics later, work on the easier tasks first and the more difficult ones later.” He added: “There is no rush to open up political dialogue. It’s not a looming issue.” There’s speculation that this method allows Taipei to stretch out the negotiation process on political issues as long as possible.

However, China appears increasingly impatient with the Ma administration as Beijing ratchets up pressure on Taipei to enter into political talks. Indeed, China’s policy and strategy toward Taiwan are guided by the “six points” outlined by Hu in 2009, during a speech commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan. These points include: 1) firm adherence to the “one China” principle; 2) strengthening commercial ties, including negotiating an economic cooperation agreement; 3) promoting personnel exchanges; 4) stressing common cultural links between the two sides; 5) allowing Taiwan’s “reasonable” participation in global organizations and 6) negotiating a peace agreement.

With the election now over, Beijing may be looking to hold the administration to some of its campaign promises, particularly its interest in a potential peace agreement.

Although the KMT and CCP can agree on the virtues of closer engagement, the attendant expectations attached to these interactions clearly diverge. Now that Ma has won a second term, the Chinese are likely to begin their push for a peace treaty. Leaders in Beijing undoubtedly see the Pingtan experimental project as a stepping stone toward more political concessions down the road. The CCP has assiduously attempted to cultivate closer relationships with Taiwanese elites across the political spectrum, while simultaneously using high-level trade delegations to win over groups traditionally opposed to closer relations with China, particularly those in southern Taiwan. By using economic levers to appeal to voters typically aligned with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, the CCP clearly hopes that it can continue to draw Taiwan into China’s economic – and eventually political – orbit. Thus, despite the fact that the Ma administration may feel uncomfortable with engaging in overt political negotiations, the CCP will likely continue to use a combination of economic sticks and carrots to bring Taiwanese leaders to the table.

The question remains, how can the KMT improve the cross-Strait relationship while protecting Taiwanese national sovereignty?

During the past four years, political leaders on both sides of the Strait have attempted to drum up public support for their respective initiatives, leading to inflated expectations regarding potential deliverables of cross-Strait engagement. Beijing's most recent push for the Pingtan project has brought political issues back to the forefront of negotiations. The Ma administration must make a tactical decision regarding whether to continue its current policy of putting “economics ahead of politics” or place political and economic negotiation on parallel tracks. Increasing pressure from Beijing will likely prompt Taipei to call for additional U.S. support to buttress its negotiating position.

During the annual KMT and CCP Cross-Taiwan Strait Economic and Cultural Forum, the KMT has put forward the concept of interpreting the cross-Strait region as “one country, two areas,” in accordance with the so-called “1992 Consensus” and the Republic of China constitution. Although the KMT appears to believe that this model can further facilitate dialogue, it may in fact have the unintended effect of marginalizing the ROC and undermining Taiwan’s concurrent efforts to protect its sovereignty and gain greater international breathing space. Such a negotiating tool can backfire for the KMT, leaving it with less room for political maneuver in the future.

In light of the probability for increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait, it would behoove Taipei and Beijing to tread carefully when managing expectations regarding the deliverables of cross-Strait engagement. Unmanaged expectations could lead either or both parties to miscalculate intentions and create resentment. For Washington, refusal to address the widening sovereignty gap in the Taiwan Strait appears likely to become a growing source of instability as Beijing increases pressure on Taipei. While Washington should continue to welcome peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, it must also provide Taipei with the moral and material support it needs to negotiate from a position of strength rather than weakness.

L.C. Russell Hsiao is a senior research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute in Washington. Julia Famularo is a research affiliate at the Project 2049 Institute and a doctoral candidate in modern East Asian political history at Georgetown University.

April 2, 2012 at 15:22

Stop trolling. Your viewpoint is a viewpoint, but it’s an extreme one.

April 2, 2012 at 15:19

It has taken 200 years for the Irish to feel like proud Englishmen. It has also taken 200 years for the Kurds to feel like proud Turks. It has been 1000 years since the Vietnamese were proud Chinese. It’s all relative, but you are definately a troll.

Oro Invictus
April 2, 2012 at 14:42

@John Chan

John Chan, there is ne’er anything rational of you trying to create a moral equivalence between the willing association of Quebec with the rest of Canada during its formation over 145 years ago (of which they were one of the four founding provinces of the Canadian Confederacy) and the violent suppression of the Tibetan people and their rights in the modern age. Honestly, trying to compare the two just suggests the CPC has a level of social progress more than 150 years behind the rest of the world (as Quebec’s integration into Canada was almost completely peaceful and was in no way characterized by the strong-arm tactics of the CPC); of course, the reason why the Quebecois were able to integrate so peacefully is that they actually wanted to join Canada, unlike Tibet which was annexed by the PRC (though, I would be remiss to not note that the Dalai Lama did help facilitate this, albeit out of necessity due to the miserable poverty Tibet was mired in [though this was thanks in no small part to the PRC's systematic isolation of the region]).

The simple truth is that if the people of Tibet, Taiwan, and/or East Turkestan do not want to be part of the PRC they cannot be made to do so by violence and intimidation; the people must decide for themselves what they want and no amount of money or aggressive coercion will change that. Tibet is perhaps the best example of this as, thanks to the CPC’s mismanagement of the region, there is a growing sentiment among Tibetans there that the Dalai Lama’s “Middle-Way” is wrong, and many are now of the belief only total secession will prevent their ill handling by the PRC; considering that the Dalai Lama only sought greater autonomy for Tibet and actively opposed secession, the fact that the PRC government has driven increasing numbers of Tibetans to seek full independence makes the CPC look downright incompetent. If things have gone this badly in Tibet, how do you suppose it will work when the CPC tries the same with Taiwan, a fully independent nation in everything but name? The current growing antipathy of the people of Taiwan towards the PRC is your answer.

On a side note, please don’t try and define me by my nationality; I may be a Canadian, but I hardly view that as anything but a descriptor of my geographic location and place of birth. I do not consider being Canadian some inseparable part of my identity and, while I feel that Canada is (comparatively) on the most socially equitable and sustainable nations in existence, it does not change the fact that I still oppose it on an ideological level as it is still a government; for the time being, the model it presents is acceptable considering current societal limitations, but it remains a case of (like all governments) an oligarchical power structure which imposes a codified policy derived from generalized consensus (or, in the case of autocracies, a solely self-interested policy) upon the citizenry. I don’t define you by your nationality, John Chan, because (despite your rambling and misanthropy) I recognize you are more than just a citizen of some nation, misguided and nationalistic you may be; I ask you provide that same courtesy in your dealings with others.

John Chan
March 31, 2012 at 11:50

@Oro Invictus,
People outside of Canada feel you are white washing the demise of Canadien for the Anglo-American. Perhaps they and you are both ignorant to each other’s nation, that’s why both of you are making ignorant and self righteous rhetoric for nobody’s benefit.

Besides it took nearly 200 years for the Quebecois feeling to be a member of Canada; 200 years later Tibetans will be a proud Chinese just like you as a proud Canadian. I just wonder why you and all those anti-China clique are not letting Tibetans to be settled down in China peacefully as the world allowed Quebecois did in Canada? Is it Tibetans a good tool to undermine China for the predatory imperialists?

John Chan
March 31, 2012 at 11:03

Taiwanese are sisters and brothers of mainland Chinese, China will not point missiles at them; but there are a lot of missiles aiming at those unscrupulous people wanting to interfere the reunification between China and Taiwan.

John Chan
March 31, 2012 at 10:55

No matter which way you look at it, the issues between Taiwan and China are China’s internal affairs; but the predatory imperial Westpac will interfere other’s internal affairs regardless from meddling to bombing and killing in the name of R2P.

The only way to stop the shameless predatory imperial Westpac from interfering China’s internal affairs is to have some tools to cut its hand off when it tries. China is in the process to get that tool ready; China, build babe build.

March 31, 2012 at 09:29

‘coolaid’ – Isn’t that an artificial coloring chemical created for ….?

‘across-strait’ is purely internal affairs.

Go ask Henry Kissinger on ‘One China’ acknowledgment. He sure never drinks ‘coolaid’.

March 31, 2012 at 09:12

Recent statement: “One Country, 2 areas”, with the explicit consent of Ma as stated by Wu Poh Hsiung tells a lot of more cooperation between cross-strait to come.

March 30, 2012 at 17:46

It has nothing to do with Taiwan’s need to inprove the cross-strait relationship, but mainland China’s need to make a better effort at improving the cross-strait ties!

Let’s be really clear about this fact, mainland China currently points 1600 offensive missiles at the tiny island!

Taiwan has estimated that by year’s end, mainland China will have over 2000 offensive missiles pointed at the island!

Another fine example of diplomacy at the ‘barrel of a gun’ by the CCP government towards Taiwan! Mainland China’s version of a ‘WIN-WIN’ situation.

Oro Invictus
March 30, 2012 at 14:08

@ John Chan

1) Quebec has, for much of its history, enjoyed a disproportionately great influence on Canadian politics, rather than being some repressed land like Tibet or East Turkestan.

2) In terms of provincial/territorial autonomy, Quebec enjoys a great deal more lease to set its own laws and various governmental systems compared to the other provinces and territories of Canada.

3) Other than, perhaps, the 1930s and mid-1970s, the majority of Quebecois have consistently been opposed to any secessionist movement for Quebec.

4) Rather than being “diluted” by Ango-Saxon immigration, Quebec is one of the least multicultural parts of Canada, with the French culture being the most prominent by far (considering that the Quebec government actually believes in “Interculturalism” with the traditional Quebec culture as dominant, the reality is the exact opposite of what you’ve described).

Furthermore, if you’re going to pick a quote from history to end off on, you’d probably be better served by one which wasn’t made by a man who wasn’t even truly invested in the associated matter (de Gaulle was, of course, the French president who was visiting Canada at the time, whose blustering earned widespread condemnation from both within and without Quebec for said phrase) and also helped bring about the most pernicious terrorist group in Canadian history (the FLQ).

@ scdad07

While your assertion about the Win-Win economic ties between Taiwan and the PRC is questionable at best and (based on polling data from various Taiwanese sources) patently wrong otherwise (I’m not even going to get into the bits about being a “subject” and my telling “story”, both because of the platitudinous nature of these and the fact that the improper syntax makes it impossible to know with absolute certainty what you’re trying to say [though I imagine you were asking if the Taiwanese would rather be a subject to one of the listed groups and that I was "spinning a yarn", respectively]) I actually do hope you’re right about the PRC not attacking the people of Taiwan; honestly, I don’t care for what reason, be it a sense of camaraderie or the knowledge such actions would be suicidal, as long as such horrific bloodshed is prevented I couldn’t give a damn what people tell themselves.

March 29, 2012 at 16:12

Oro Invictus – much as I’d love to see the results you are suggesting, unfortunately it will never happen.
The fact you use the acronym ‘CPC’ (generally ‘CCP’) suggests that you are not too familiar with this topic.
Unfortunately, I see the CCP making moves to unify – however they can – before the end of Ma’s term. Alternatively, it will happen when the quality,culture and lifestyles of people in China catch up with those in Taiwan.
Either way, it will happen sooner rather than later.

John Chan and Passersby: “internal affairs”? Keep drinking the coolaid!

March 28, 2012 at 05:56

French in Canada was suppressed by force into Canada, and treated as 2nd class citizen, they have been demanding independence and wanting to reunite with France non-stop, they even refuse to give up their language; but unfortunately the colonization yoke put on them by the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-American is too tight to shake off. Meanwhile the Anglo-Saxon uses non-French to dilute French population so that they never can get their independence via peaceful means. The setup allows the Anglo-Saxon in Canada to white wash its colonization of French gracefully.

China should take a page from Canada on how to swallow up a piece of land by force and still claim moral high ground; meanwhile it is lecturing others shamelessly.

Indeed, no matter what happens, it doesn’t change the fate the Quebec will never willingly allow itself to be submitted to the Anglo-Saxon in Canada and the Anglo-American in the USA. Vive le Québec libre !

March 28, 2012 at 03:53

taiwan’s national sovereignty is a term that even taiwanese d shun from in any political discussion today. it has been kmt’position that taiwan is the part of china, which is also recognised and accepted by us.
sure, there is overwhelming majority in taiwan now that feel reluctant to be reunited with mainland now due to the political and economic discrepancies. but this stalemate can nt stay infinitely and politicians have to explore the avenues for the eventual and inevitable reunification.

its not just communist party officials drumming up the rhetorics for the much needed dialogues cross strait, but those political dissdents feel exactly the same way as well. us or taiwanese would find it extremely impossible to locate any support in the mainland china for taiwan’s cessation regardless of their political allegiances.

and what baffles me most is – doesnt us have enough problems of their own and doesnt they understand no matter how much weappons they sell to taiwan, the military scale has already inexorably tipped in favor of china? and hypothetically speaking, god forbid, should the war break out, will us have the strengths and more importantly, determination to insert itself in the thick of action at risk of having a couple of cities of their own incinerated? how will they feel after they have flattened out china, a country with 1.4 billion people? how will the world feel after us sinks the second largest economy in defense( ha…, i wanna laugh and cry at the same time)of an island with 20 million? just for the democracy and human rights? the us president of that time must have sth better than those boiler-plate stuff to justify their intervention and considerable costs to tax payers and the world economy.

and even so, will taiwan be saved??? i think everyone already has answer to that one. so if i was the taiwan president, i d write to the chinese presiden a letter full of hear-felt emotions to express my gratitude for still letting me have the ” glorious title”.

March 27, 2012 at 21:08

“The question remains, how can the KMT improve the cross-Strait relationship while protecting Taiwanese national sovereignty?”

There are two Chinese political factions occupying two parts of one China. There is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it. The Taiwan issue is an internal Chinese political issue, it’s not an issue that involves one sovereign country versus another. Let them fight it out politically – it’s a fight between two compatriots. Let’s be clear.

March 27, 2012 at 18:12

Having said that, I cannot see Taiwan ever agreeing to become part of China, voluntarily.

March 27, 2012 at 11:41

IMO, China will not use force against Taiwan fellow country man.

China has been and will be conducting policies of WIN-WIN for both economics and cultural/people exchange.

Question to Taiwan people: Does to be a Dutch, Jap or American subject ever come to mind?

Oro told a story.

John Chan
March 27, 2012 at 11:35

Any squabbling between Taiwan and China is China’s internal affairs, it is not an issue of sovereignty; the squabbling is none of any foreigner’s business. USA recognizes there is only one China and Taiwan is an integral part of China. The author asked “Washington to address the widening sovereignty gap in the Taiwan Strait” is a pure expression of naked imperialism. I wonder how Washington would react when China refers the disputes between Washington and any one of the states in the USA as sovereignty disputes, as well as “provide the state with the moral and material support it needs to negotiate from a position of strength rather than weakness.”

Most likely Washington will go berserk like during the Cuban crisis, bringing Armageddon to humanity again.

John Chan
March 27, 2012 at 10:52

French in Canada was suppressed by force into Canada, and treated as 2nd class citizen, they have been demanding independence and wanting to reunite with France non-stop, they even refuse to give up their language; but unfortunately the colonization yoke put on them by the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-American is too tight to shake off. Meanwhile the Anglo-Saxon uses non-French to dilute French population so that they never can get their independence via peaceful means. The setup allows the Anglo-Saxon in Canada to white wash its colonization of French gracefully.

China should take a page from Canada on how to swallow up a piece of land by force and still claim moral high ground; meanwhile it is lecturing others shamelessly.

Indeed, no matter what happens, it doesn’t change the fate the Quebec will never willingly allow itself to be submitted to the Anglo-Saxon in Canada and the Anglo-American in the USA. Vive le Québec libre !

Oro Invictus
March 27, 2012 at 06:38

The issue facing the CPC is that it is now, at this point in time, seeking unification no longer simply between two different states operating under separate political ideologies but two nations with well-defined and developed national and cultural identities. Despite the PRC cultivating economic ties with Taiwan and actively undermining efforts for it to solidify itself as an independent nation, the percentage of the population in Taiwan which favours unification has dropped precipitously while those favouring independence (eventual or immediate) has increased dramatically. While it is true most prefer the status quo, the simple fact of the matter is that when polls ask something along the lines of “If the status quo could not be maintained, do you support independence or unification” the majority (the various polls’ percentages place it around 65-80%) favour independence.

At this point, for the PRC, these constant overtures to Taiwan are less a function of actions which will actually bear fruit in the pursuit of unification rather than a party imperative; the CPC requires the illusion of unity in all things to maintain control (be it within the party or with various regions under the PRC’s dominion) such that it will do whatever it can to prevent Taiwan from formally declaring independence. That is why the CPC treats Taiwan like it does with the Tibetans and other such minority/opposition groups, as any defiance of CPC policy destroys their illusion of infallibility and control; indeed, when one considers that repugnant piece of legislature, the “anti-secession law”, one sees that the CPC’s dealing with Taiwan are essentially nothing more than an international version of the CPC’s campaign of hollow monetary incentives and intimidation it applies to those within the PRC’s borders.

The CPC needs to accept that Taiwan is, barring military action (which would absolutely ruin the PRC internationally and economically), simply not going to ever unify with them. Maybe once, decades ago when the wounds were still fresh and the people did not have a sense of national identity, the PRC could have achieved this, but they are no longer dealing with people who simply view themselves as an opposing social and political group but an actual nation and separate culture (and, for all intents and purposes, they are). The longer things go on, the wider this rift will be and the more the PRC pressures Taiwan the faster it will grow. Just as the growing discontent among the Tibetans, Uyghurs, political dissidents, Hong Kong residents, and even the PRC middle class show, for all we denigrate humanity as being too shallow and too greedy, you cannot simply buy a person’s rights nor make them trade away their freedom. In the face of this reality, the only other recourse for the party (which it has been using with increasing frequency) is active suppression and, while it may be able to do this domestically without too much international condemnation, would (at best) result in a Pyrrhic victory for the PRC when applied to Taiwan.

At the same time, though, I imagine the CPC leadership is probably cognizant of this fact and, as such, is really trying to ward off Taiwan declaring formal independence moreso than actually pursue the fantastical notion of unification with Taiwan. As long as Taiwan doesn’t declare formal independence, no matter how functionally independent it is and will be, simply having the issue of its sovereignty remain bureaucratically nebulous allows the CPC to maintain the facade of control and unity; if this is actual goal for Beijing, this will hopefully help preclude military action as it ensures Beijing won’t push too hard and drive Taipei to officially declare itself a separate state. Under that light, cross-strait relations aren’t really chilling as much as reaching an equilibrium where the CPC provides enough economic and political incentive for Taiwan to not completely disavow any ties between itself and the mainland and Taiwan retains its sovereignty and functional independence.

Then again, perhaps I’m giving the CPC too much credit and they really are trying to pull Taiwan into the fold in some nationalistically-fueled and self-destructive gambit; it would hardly be the first time such a thing had happened. It is for such reasons I view the above as but one possibility of CPC intentions among many, though one that suggests the CPC leadership actually learns from history (which many governments, particularly the CPC, has shown is rarely the case). In any case, no matter what its intentions, it still doesn’t change the fact that Taiwan will never willingly allow itself to be subsumed by the PRC; what changes, depending on the CPC’s goals, is the likelihood of the CPC turning to military engagement when other methods attempted to absorb Taiwan inevitably fail.

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