Tsai Ing-wen Could Be More Dangerous Than Chen Shui-bian
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 29, 2015
Executive Summary: Former DPP Chairman Shih Ming-teh said that if Tsai Ing-wen is elected,
she will be a "female version of Ma Ying-jeou" for eight years. Some
people think Tsai Ing-wen is "Ma Ying-jeou + Chen Shui-bian". Is Tsai
Ing-wen a female version of Ma Ying-jeou or Chen Shui-bian? The answer
may depend on whom you ask. But questions such as this allow us to
scrutinize Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait policy.
Full Text Below:
Former DPP Chairman Shih Ming-teh said that if Tsai Ing-wen is elected, she will be a "female version of Ma Ying-jeou" for eight years. Some people think Tsai Ing-wen is "Ma Ying-jeou + Chen Shui-bian". Is Tsai Ing-wen a female version of Ma Ying-jeou or Chen Shui-bian? The answer may depend on whom you ask. But questions such as this allow us to scrutinize Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait policy.
What is Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait policy? Mathematics has a relative coordinate system we can use to determine where Tsai Ing-wen stands compared to a control group. The best control group is Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian. Simply examine Ma, Tsai, and Chen's cross-Strait positions. Ma Ying-jeou talks the talk and walks the walk. Tsai Ing-wen neither talks the talk nor walks the walk. Chen Shui-bian talks one talk, but walks another walk. Chen Shui-bian says one thing, but does another.
Of the three, Ma Ying-jeou has been the most consistent. He has adhered to the 1992 consensus and "no [immediate] reunification, no Taiwan independence, and no use of force" from beginning to end. Ma Ying-jeou's position has been the least elastic, the most transparent, most stable, and most predictable. Cross-Strait and foreign relations involve high-level, three way Washington/Beijing/Taipei political interactions. The complexity can be imagined. Good faith is everything. Loss of credibility means loss of trust. It means difficulty in reaching a consensus and difficulty in establishing a constructive relationship. Ma Ying-jeou's position has been the least elastic and the most predictable. It has also resulted in the most cross-Strait and diplomatic achievements.
Chen Shui-bian was the polar opposite. When he took office in 2000, he solemnly proclaimed, "I will not declare independence. I will not change the name of the nation. I will not make the two states theory part of the constitution. I will not promote a referendum on reunification vs. independence that changes the status quo. I will not repeal the National Unification Guidelines and the "five noes" of the National Unification Council. But two years later, Chen did a complete about face and trumpeted "Taiwan and China, one nation on each side". His rhetoric kept changing. His position was the most elastic, the least stable, and the least predictable. Washington and Taipei found it difficult to trust each other. So did Taipei and Beijing. Collisions became the norm. Eventually Washington and Bejing were forced to establish channels to manage the Taiwan situation, humiliating the nation.
So what about Tsai Ing-wen? In terms of flexibility and predictability, she falls somewhere between Ma and Chen. In terms of transparency, she ranks dead last. The greatest difference between her, Ma, and Chen, is her ability to ask others questions without providing any answers of her own. Tsai Ing-wen uses lots of question marks, very few periods, and ever fewer exclamation marks. She is good at questioning others, but poor at suggesting solutions of her own, particularly on cross-Strait policy.
Tsai Ing-wen's "maintain the status quo" is abstract and ambiguous. Ma Ying-jeou has questioned both the "what" and the "how" of her policy. Julian Kuo, in "Tsai Ing-wen's Cross-Strait Challenges", notes the key to Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait posture. Regarding "what", Kuo cited polls. According to "Confronting Taiwan's Two Major Public Opinion Trends", over 85% of the public advocates "maintaining the status quo". Over 60% consider themselves "Taiwanese only". Both KMT and DPP candidates must of course face reality. That is why Tsai advocates maintaining the status quo.
This is the key to Tsai Ing-wen's "maintain the status quo". She hides her own preferences, then acts like a mirror, reflecting the reality of public opinion. She blasts Ma Ying-jeou's cross-Strait policy. But when asked about her own cross-Strait policy proposals, she invokes a "Taiwan consensus". No one can object to it. But no one can understand it either. When she advocates "maintaining the status quo" most people approve. But this is mere talk. A recent Legislative Watch Foundation poll showed that 68.3% approved of Tsai's proposal to maintain the cross-Strait status quo. Only 18.4% did not. But this is deceitful. It is not that the public approves of Tsai's proposals. It is that the public approves of maintaining the status quo, no matter who advocates it.
Refusal to specify "what" inevitably makes it difficult to specify "how". Julian Kuo responded to Tsai's "how to maintain the status quo". He said 'So far Tsai Ing-wen has never offered any detailed "new cross-Strait formula" to replace the 1992 consensus.' Therefore Tsai Ing-wen is neither a female version of Ma Ying-jeou or Chen Shui-bian. Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian's cross-Strait policies are highly personal in nature. One was clear and consistent in his advocacy. The other was clear but inconsistent in his advocacy.
Tsai Ing-wen has changed her position on "how". She went from denouncing ECFA as "sugar-coated poison" to "unconditional acceptance". Tsai Ing-wen can claim that her cross-Strait policy stance "has not changed" only because she has never made her stance clear to begin with.
Tsai Ing-wen refuses to clarify her cross-Strait policy stance. As an election strategy, this may make it difficult for opponents to land any hard blows on her. It may minimize her exposure to criticism. But her refusal to state her policy stance puts Taiwan in a quandary. It sets the two sides at odds with each other. Optimistically speaking, Tsai Ing-wen might not turn out like Chen Shui-bian. She might not destroy cross-strait trust. Pessimistically speaking, her totally opaque cross-Strait policy stance could be the biggest obstacle in the way of cross-Strait and Washington/Taipei trust.
Will Tsai Ing-wen really continue Ma Ying-jeou's constructive "talk the talk and walk the walk" cross-Strait policy? One cannot avoid skepticism. Let us hope she does not repeat Chen Shui-bian fickle betrayal of promises and scorched earth diplomacy. That much Tsai Ing-wen owes Taiwan. That is why voters must demand that Tsai Ing-wen make clear her cross-Strait policy.