Before 2008 the Taiwan Strait was one of the two hot spots in East Asia, another being the Korean Peninsula. Since President Ma, of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) Party, was elected in 2008, a rapprochement has developed between Taiwan and China. The resulting peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait fits the national interests of not just Taiwan and China, but also the United States. As an elected official of two of Taiwan’s largest metropolitan areas, alternatively, I witnessed the changes cross-strait peace and stability brings to people’s daily life. I saw mom-and-pop drug stores selling made-in-China goods, Chinese tourists in night markets, and Chinese students studying with local students in colleges. But the cross-strait peace and stability is now on the line, as Taiwan’s 2016 presidential election once again pits the pro-de jure independence Democratic Progressive Party against the incumbent KMT party.
For complicated historical reasons, China has an uncompromising position on Taiwan, that is, Taiwan is an integral part of China. Any declaration by Taiwan to separate itself legally and permanently from China will be viewed by China as a violation of Chinese territorial integrity, hence incurring war. On the other hand, we people living in Taiwan would like to maintain our way of life, a democratic polity, and individual freedoms. The United States is caught in between.
The United States has a long litany of national interests overlapping with that of China. The United States has also been the staunchest supporter for Taiwan’s democracy and security. A war across the Taiwan Strait will be a lose-lose-lose proposition. China needs a stable international environment to grow its economy, and a war against Taiwan will mean a retardation of economic goals and fierce reactions from the international community. For Taiwan, a war with a goliath China would mean a complete destruction of its entity. A war across the strait may put the United States at the horn of a dilemma between realpolitik concerns and morality. The United States may be entrapped in an undesirable entanglement with China. Conversely, peace and stability would mean a win-win-win result for the Taiwan-China-U.S. triangle.
President Ma stabilized the triangle by an innovative design, the “1992 Consensus — One China with Respective Interpretations.” The “1992 Consensus” refers to the oral agreement between the two sides that across the Taiwan Strait there is but one China. But Taiwan maintains that the one China is the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal national title), while the Chinese mainland claims the one China as the People's Republic of China. This linguistic device is a formula of “agree to disagree.” It has made possible an increasing amount of exchanges between the two sides — 23 formal agreements so far, including a free-trade agreement.
Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), however, does not recognize the existence of “1992 Consensus.” DPP’s presidential candidate Chairwoman Tsai said in June in a speech in Washington, D.C., that she wants to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait as well. But she dodges all those questions on how the status quo can be maintained without the DPP recognizing the consensus’ political foundation. Meanwhile, China has repeatedly sent signals that “no 1992 Consensus, no peace and stability.” The signals reached a crescendo when Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Taiwanese counterpart, President Ma Ying-jeou and affirmed the 1992 Consensus as fundamental to the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The DPP has since accused President Ma of selling out Taiwan’s interests. But a majority people in Taiwan think otherwise. The White House, the National Security Council, and the State Department have all issued statements “welcoming steps that are taken by both sides of the Taiwan Strait to try to reduce tensions and improve cross-strait relations.”
Through the years, American support for Taiwan’s democracy and security remains the most important backing for Taiwan to pursue rapprochement with China. Taiwan needs to bargain with China from a position of strength. The United States provides the kind of strength Taiwan needs. My party and my campaign know well that the fundamental interest of the United States is in a stable and peaceful cross-strait relationship. One should award friendship with what a friend values. One should never take friendship for granted.
• Eric Li-luan Chu is the chairman of the KMT and presidential candidate for the party in Taiwan’s 2016 presidential election.
Copyright © 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.