Unlike some other relationships in the international arena, cross-Strait relations are extremely complex. Washington, Taipei and Beijing are falling into an action-reaction cycle on cross-Strait issues, even as they disagree on who is at fault. The heightened political antagonism is a constant irritant pulling trilateral relations in various directions. The situation has been marked by fluctuations that make it a constant focus of attention in international media.
The Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee just concluded on October 31, and Beijing promulgated “26 new measures” for Taiwan enterprises and Taiwanese people. The new measures were made public on the day the Cross-Strait Entrepreneur Summit kicked off, thus having very strong political significance. This is a comprehensive change in the strategy and tactics toward Taiwan on the part of China; it may be said that cross-Strait relations have entered a brand-new situation.
Reviewing the recent US measures for Taiwan, whether the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act is a prelude to a US-Taiwan free-trade agreement, or whether Taiwan and the United States conclude more investment agreements, they all reveal a sense of being beneficial to Taiwan. Against the backdrop that Taiwan-US economic relations are becoming closer, the “26 new measures” are apparently meant to underscore Taiwan-China economic bonding.
Since the beginning of the year, the US-Taiwan-China triangular relationship and the bilateral relationships among the three have undergone essential changes, and no matter which party is in power after the Taiwan general election next year, it will face new cross-Strait challenges, and the risk of conflict should not be underestimated. In fact, if President Tsai Ing-wen wins re-election, there will be predatory attention on the other side of the strait. If Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Han Kuo-yu wins the election, cross-Strait economic, trade and cultural exchanges and tourism will be restored, but the honeymoon period will not be too long.
Regardless of who wins the presidential election in January, whatever cross-Strait policies the winning side proposes, the urgency of consulting with China to resolve fundamental political questions will become greater and greater. The KMT no longer talks about a “peace agreement,” while Beijing’s “Taiwan program for one country, two systems” oversteps the scope that the vox populi could currently bear, and the Democratic Progressive Party can only rely on its anti-China rhetoric; under such circumstances, how could this complex problem can be solved?
Insofar as cross-Strait relations are concerned, the political issues seem complicated, but in reality, they can easily be reduced to three levels: sovereignty, constitutional government and the state system at the high level; international space arrangement and military confidence-building measures at the mid-level; and interactions and cooperation between governments and departments of public authority at the low level. In fact, during the eight years of Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency, the two sides did reach tacit agreement and systematized measures at the mid- and low levels, and leaders of the two sides of the Strait met at the high level for the first time.
Now, the two sides of the Strait should think anew about an interim agreement. Perhaps the two sides both recognize the efficacy and stability in their respective constitutional systems in promoting peaceful development.
The goals of “governance modernization” raised by the Fourth Plenary Session include policies toward Taiwan. At the basic strategic level, the “26 new measures” demonstrate the roadmap of the statement that Beijing persists in peaceful reunification, using exchanges and integration to improve cross-Strait relations, while “reunification by force” is not an option of Beijing’s policies, and this year prior to the general election, it is unlikely to launch military exercises with a specific goal.
In this era of globalization, peace and development are not only a common objective among nations but also the highest goal of cross-Strait policy. They meet the greatest interest of the 23 million people on Taiwan. The cross-Strait interim agreement is not difficult to interpret; the following passage, “abiding by the responsibility under the constitutional system, not splitting existing national territory, mutual recognition of public authority, testing points of integration at the basic level, and preventing military conflicts,” is its fundamental spirit.
Given the growing security risks, Taipei and Beijing should remember that conserving peace and development is the only right path to minimize surprises and mitigate the risk of unintended escalation of cross-Strait rivalry.