Why Xi Shouldn’t Push Taiwan’s Tsai Too Hard on ‘One China’

Why Xi Shouldn’t Push Taiwan’s Tsai Too Hard on ‘One China’
Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Office, Taipei, Taiwan, May 20, 2016 (Taipei Photojournalist Association via AP).

Chinese President Xi Jinping has a bone to pick with Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ying-wen, who took office late last month. Xi and other top Chinese leaders believed they had pushed forward unification with Taiwan during the presidency of Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou of the long-time ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although Ma failed to go nearly as far as they would’ve liked, at least in Beijing’s view, some tangible progress was made. Now, Xi doesn’t want to see those gains lost with a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president in power. Chinese officials correctly perceive that a DPP administration will be even more resistant to unification than Ma’s government had been.

In order to lock in the progress it has made, Beijing wants Tsai to publicly commit to the so-called 1992 consensus, or a similar formulation of what it calls the “one China” principle. Essentially, this means that both China and Taiwan belong to one China. The KMT at least accepts the existence of this consensus, while the DPP does not. Tsai pointedly declined to commit to it before and after her election.

China has ratcheted up the rhetoric to make Tsai change her stance. Beijing has repeatedly warned Tsai of “negative consequences” if she fails to “recognize Taiwan is a part of China under the ‘one China’ principle.” In March, Xi warned that “without a solid foundation, the earth and mountain will tremble. We must adhere to the 1992 consensus.” The head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office stated that “anything that went against the ‘one China’ principle would only bring tension and upheaval.” China has also threatened to suspend regular talks and impede food imports with more strict health and safety inspections.

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