On November 6, US President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term. On November 8, the convening of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) signaled the engineering of the decennial power transition, starting the era of China’s new leader Xi Jinping. It is the first time that the selection of the new leaders of US and China – the world’s two largest powers – have been decided and announced in the same week. Inevitably many will wonder what changes will take place in the international arena after this “super week”? And, how should Taiwan deal with it?
Positive Taipei-Washington relations set to continue
Government and public opinion leaders in Taiwan generally believe that Taipei-Washington relations will continue to develop smoothly after Obama’s re-election.
Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, President Ma Ying-jeou sent a congratulatory message to President Obama saying that Taiwan-US relations have been close and friendly under Obama’s leadership over the last four years, reaching their best state in the past 30 years. President Ma also said that Taiwan is looking forward to continued cooperation and a further strengthening of the partnership between the two sides.
Taiwan’s Premier Sean Chen said that Obama is expected to continue to promote financially sound policies in his second term, which will aid long-term economic stability. The US is an important trading partner for Taiwan’s exports, and will continue to help drive Taiwan’s economic growth.
Premier Chen said that the US is the largest resource for Taiwan’s foreign investment and technology, and he hopes that both sides will base relations on the established good foundations and positive atmosphere, to grasp the opportunity of Obama’s re-election to further strengthen the development of bilateral economic and trade relations. Chen also expects to see the continued promotion of Taiwan-US industrial and trade cooperation, and the early resumption of talks relating to the semi-FTA Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
The Central News Agency reported that a series of actions including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s holding talks with Taiwan’s former Vice President Lien Chan while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, the US publicly announcing the news of Taiwan’s Deputy Defense Minister Andrew Yang’s visit to the Pentagon, Washington’s agreement to grant visa-free status to Taiwan travelers, the resumption of negotiations towards the TIFA, all show that Taiwan and the US have entered a period of closer and stronger relations.
Su Tseng-chang, Democratic Progressive Party chairman, and former DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen also sent congratulations to Obama on his reelection. The DPP Central Committee said it will actively plan to restore the establishment of a DPP representative to Washington to deepen its relations with the United States. The DPP continues the exchange of visits and dialogue with the US to ensure that the US understands the policy direction and thinking of the DPP.
President Ma calls for greater cross-strait trust, cooperation
When Xi was elected as the CCP’s new General Secretary, President Ma, in his capacity as chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT), took the initiative to send Xi a congratulatory message, the first time such a gesture has been made. President Ma expressed his hope that the two sides would further strengthen mutual trust and cooperation to cope with new challenges and to strengthen peace initiatives between the two sides.
Most of Taiwan’s media outlets reported that China has made remarkable advances since it took the path of reform and pursued a policy of opening up over 30 years ago. However, the gap between the rich and the poor, environmental pollution, and corruption, have all surfaced at the same time in China. The thinking and behavior of the Chinese leadership have reached a point of being unable to continue its course without making a change, and this is the major mission of the 18th National Congress of the CCP as it is empowered by history.
The Want Daily commented that since the 17th CCP national congress, “Hu Jintao (party head) and Wen Jiabao (government head) system” have basically followed their predecessors “Jiang Zemin and Li Peng’s reform pace”, made some more adjustments and innovations in economic structure, pushing China’s economic development toward a big leap. The upgrading of economic power has also lifted China’s military and international status, changing the position of China in the world.
However, in the process of its modernization, China’s rapid economic growth has also brought many problems, increasing economic and social contradictions. Due to these contradictions, coupled with the effects brought about by the development of science and technology, microblogging has become the alternative channel for spreading gossip and rumors, expressing political feelings, and increasing demands for political democratization.
The Taipei-based China Times stressed that there are nearly 300 million middle class people in China. The basic demands of the middle classes are for decent economic comfort, the right to participate in politics, and the realization of social fairness and justice. The major topic of the new leadership of Xi and Li Keqiang (premier) is how to meet the needs of the middle class. The shoots of democracy appear to be emerging in China, but the Beijing government only really tries to control the proliferation of social problems, and has yet to review the system and make significant innovations.
The Want Daily reported that just like the preceding 17th CCP congress completing China’s economic reform, the 18th is expected to be able to complete the major tasks of reforming China’s political and social system, moving China to a modern country.
“Comprehensive development” in relations with China?
The Central News Agency reported that Liu Te-shun, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan, believes that the Beijing government should continue its policy toward Taiwan, and take necessary steps. There should not be a dramatic change in its Taiwan policy because of a change in leadership.
However, according to the analysis of Taiwan’s former National Security Council Secretary-General Su Chi, Xi is a standard “Taiwan hand” and is bound to play a strong “Taiwan card” in the fight for political achievements and performance. After taking power, Xi will launch a series of “systematic ideas and action” on Taiwan. The biggest achievement of Hu’s policy toward Taiwan was to reverse the downturn in cross-strait relations to safe waters. If Xi wants to do something beyond his predecessor, he will not be limited by maintaining “cross-strait stability” in his policy thinking and initiate a breakthrough policy in the next ten years.
The Commercial Times pointed out in an editorial that, after the leadership changes of the 18th national congress, that the new CCP leadership will launch a model to promote the “comprehensive development” in its relations with Taiwan, no longer placing economics and trade as the top priority. In other words, after the development of economic and trade relations, the two sides should also develop cross-strait cultural, political, and military exchanges and cooperation in parallel, rather than focusing on just one or two areas.
According to the paper, opinions in Taiwan agreed that it is best to build up an “economic and trade spindle” first to serve as a robust foundation between the two sides, so that a natural way can be paved for the comprehensive development of cross-strait relations to bear fruit in future.
And, in case cross-strait political issues were put on the agenda before the solidification of economic and trade cooperation, there would definitely be some argument and discord between Taiwan and China and thus the process of economic and trade negotiation would be impacted. However, Taiwan should also be prepared to deal with the arrival of “comprehensive development” between the two sides, facing the negotiation of non-economic and trade issues, the paper noted.
The Liberty Times stressed that it is apparent that Xi’s government will focus on the economy, people’s livelihoods and rectification of the Communist party style, rather than on the implementation of political reforms, since “reform” has not been mentioned in his speeches. However, today China must face political reform, according to the paper. If Beijing continues ignoring political reforms, it will be difficult for China not only to maintain the Chinese Communist dictatorship system, but also to sustain the pride of continual economic growth.
Dealing with future US-China relations
Despite the re-election of President Obama, the makeup of the US Congress remains little changed, continuing the frustrations of a seriously divided government. With Congressional members from opposing parties holding such divergent views, it remains extremely difficult for the president to promote his domestic policies; however this situation may leave the US president with more room to maneuver in terms of foreign policy, according to China Times.
The paper pointed out that, after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the trend of a rising China has become increasingly apparent, yet there remain many contentious issues in relation to international affairs between the US and China. All signs suggest a pessimistic future for US-China relations. The Want Daily reported that the US and China not only have conflicts over trade and the economy, they also hold different positions on North and South Korea, on issues relating to the East China Sea and the South China Sea. With such entrenched misunderstandings, surely it will take a very long time to reach a compromise.
“Some people take a pessimistic view about the future of US-China relations, but I think just the opposite,” said Lin Chong-pin, a Taiwanese military strategist. According to his analysis, Xi has a much better understanding of the United States than any previous Chinese leaders. Besides, it is difficult for the US to return to Asia with its economic strength and national power. So the overall situation will be that the US and China will cooperate more to reduce confrontation in the coming four years, the Central News Agency reported.
The China Times pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region has become a contested field of strategic competition between the US and China and there is a trend toward more conflict between the two sides. In an atmosphere of growing US-China strategic suspicions, Taiwan-China relations also face a new set of challenges that are likely to become increasingly complex. It is apparent that when the US actively reinforces its military alliances with Japan and Australia that the common adversary will be China. And if Taiwan takes any position in support of US strategy in East Asia, it will possibly hamper Taiwan’s positive interactions with China.
Balance between the two powers
Sandwiched between China and the United States, what can Taiwan do? Edward I-hsin Chen, a professor at Tamkang University, stressed that Taiwan should maintain an “equidistant” relationship and not take sides, the Want Daily reported.
However, according to analysis in the China Times, the issue of Taiwan has diminished due to positive interactions across the Taiwan Strait. If no solution emerges to the Taiwan issue, this will only add new uncertainty to China’s security. In the event that China and the United States cannot live in peace in the future, and tensions rise, there will be ignition points of local confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region. By that time, President Ma’s balancing strategy between the US and China will face a daunting challenge.
Andy Chang, director of Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of China Studies, pointed out in an article in the United Daily News that the result of Taiwan’s presidential election in 2016 will be seen as the first important test of the acceptance of Xi’s Taiwan policy. This will be followed by the 19th CCP national congress in 2017. Therefore, whatever the outcome of Taiwan’s presidential election in 2016, Xi and his leadership will make every effort to ensure no change in the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait. So the major task of Xi’s Taiwan policy during his first term will naturally be to make all necessary preparations to deal with cross-strait relations after Taiwan’s presidential election.
Although Xi expects a cross-strait peace agreement can be signed during his ten year tenure, which would be an historic step in China’s history, President Ma is more likely to work first toward the mutual establishment of representative offices as a mechanism to continuing peaceful development within his remaining term of office. It remains to be seen whether political dialogue can be initiated between Taiwan and China in the coming decade, Chang noted.