Perspectives on evolving US-China-Taiwan relations
The ECCT's Greater China Business committee hosted a lunch on the topic of US-China-Taiwan relations in the wake of the January 2020 presidential and legislative elections, featuring guest speaker Andrew Yang (Nien-dzu), Secretary General of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies.
The speaker began with an analysis of the results of the 2020 presidential and legislative elections. In his view, the clear majority of voter support for President Tsai and the Democratic Progressive Party sent a clear message to the world that the DPP is firmly in control and that opposition parties lack effective ways to influence government policies. Moreover, as long as the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), remains without strong leadership and a clear future strategy, the next four years will be dominated by the DPP. He also made the point that there are now a lot of hard-line pan-green representatives in the legislature, which may push new initiatives to raise Taiwan's profile internationally, which could risk crossing Beijing's red lines.
Looking ahead, President Tsai will probably be constrained by these forces, although her continued call for peace and promise not to change the status quo also do not give Beijing an excuse to up the ante. Over in China, President Xi Jinping is facing enormous challenges on multiple fronts. His most immediate challenge is dealing with the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, which has health, economic, as well as political ramifications.
However, the outbreak also poses challenges for Taiwan. According to Yang, there are five million Taiwanese living or frequently travelling to and from China for business or study purposes. So far, only a tiny fraction of them have been repatriated to Taiwan. It is not clear if authorities are prepared to deal with a much larger number of returning Taiwanese expatriates from Taiwan. Besides the human impact, there is the economic impact of Taiwan's close ties with China to consider in terms of exports and potential disruptions to extensive supply chains in China if the outbreak fallout continues for an extended period.
In the meantime, there is no formal or informal channel for dialogue between the two sides, even in the face of the latest serious health crisis, and Taiwan remains shut out of the World Health Organisation and World Health Assembly.
Yang expressed the view that the lack of cross-Strait dialogue is risky because it could lead to miscalculations on either side which could lead to actual conflict. What is needed, he contended, is a trilateral dialogue mechanism involving China, the United States and Taiwan, that would create strategic assurances. He noted that former President Ma Ying-jeou attempted something along these lines with his so-called "three no's policy" - no declaration of independence from China, no unification with China, and no use of force to resolve differences across the Strait. However, Ma's message was not convincing enough to help the KMT to win the election in 2016.
In the Q&A session, Yang said that Xi's "one China principle" position on Taiwan is consistent with the communist party's often-stated position on the subject. While "resolving the Taiwan issue" is often mentioned by representatives of the party, Xi and the party's current priorities are dealing with the myriad of internal problems in China. According to Yang's analysis, this implies that the status quo should prevail, at least for the foreseeable future.