Tsai Ing-wen is a Political Dinosaur Holding Back Positive Cross-Straits Relations

In 2018’s local elections, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was heavily defeated throughout the island. In 2018, the opposition Kuomintang came out of the elections with control of 15 cities while the DPP was left with only six. This is significant because each of the two main parties have increasingly different ideas concerning relations with the rest of China.

The DPP is effectively a party advocating for the full separation of Taiwan from the rest of the country and thus has been called a “pro-independence party”. By contrast, the Kuomintang which relocated to Taiwan after being on the losing end of the Chinese Civil War, has amended its once unshakeable pro-“Republic of China” One China Policy and is now open to increased connectivity with the rest of the country through various commercial and other pragmatic links. To put it simply, while the DPP stresses a unilaterally hostile relationship with Beijing, the modern Kuomintang tends to stress one built on various levels of compromise.

While the notion of compromise takes the world very far from the uncompromising origins of the Kuomintang, this is in fact the reality today where the DPP has become so extreme that the Kuomintang have gradually adopted a more moderate set of principles in response. Therefore, while some commentators have called the election a “victory for Beijing”, this is a highly inaccurate statement. The Kuomintang are still very much a Taipei-centred party, but one whose business minded constituents reject the provocative policies of the DPP.

As a result of the elections, Tsai Ing-wen has resigned her leadership of the DPP which in and of itself is good news for peace minded people as Tsai’s staunchly anti-Beijing policies frequently played into the hands of foreign forces seeking to stir cross-Straits hostilities. But while she resigned her party leadership in 2018, she not only remains president, but she intends to stand in the 2020 general election for a new term.

The fact that after her party lost so badly in last year’s local elections, Tsai Ing-wen still believes that she can receive another term in office, is representative of a personal ambition for power that far outweighs any pragmatic notions of listening to what people want. The 2018 elections proved that overwhelmingly, people want harmonious cross-Straits relations that are predicated on the notion of ever more economic and people-to-people connectivity.

In the contemporary age, the power of Belt and Road is helping to bridge such gaps throughout Asia and indeed beyond and as such, it is not only absurd but is reactionary for one to exploit past tensions in order to separate Chinese people from one another based on the political schisms that belong to a previous century. Beijing’s leadership accepts that the cross-Strait issue will remain a delicate one and like all things delicate, it should be handled with velvet gloves rather than with a sledgehammer.

And yet, in order to revive her personal political fortunes and those of her party, Tsai may predictably resort to a hostile approach to cross-Straits relations in a final attempt to preserve what remains of her political relevance. This would be a deeply unfortunate event for the people, because it would represent a backward looking approach at a time when most people, including her main political rivals are moving towards a mature approach to peace and prosperity by championing the de-escalation of cross-Straits tensions.

Unless an outside force stages a provocation in order to lend pseudo-credibility to Tsai’s fear mongering approach to politics, it is likely that in one way or another, Tsai’s grip on power is coming to an end. This is a symptom of the fact that her increasingly outdated views do not resonate with a people who realise that at a time when Korea is engaged in an internal peace process, at a time when China-Vietnam relations are improving, at a time when China-ASEAN relations stand at a collective all time high and at a time when Belt and Road is helping to link the Asia-Pacific region to the wider Afro-Eurasian space, maintaining a hostile political line over the Straits is simply out of touch with the wider developments throughout Asia.

Dinosaurs were once large and intimidating, but they have long since gone extinct. It appears that the same will soon apply to the politics of  Tsai Ing-wen.

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