The Taiwanese leader’s firm response to Xi Jinping’s address to ‘Taiwanese compatriots’ has been widely praised at home and abroad. Tsai must now use that momentum by showing similar determination to tackle other issues.
On Jan. 2, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Beijing’s decision to end military clashes with Taiwan, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech regarding Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) determination to unify the island-nation once and for all. Xi encouraged both sides of the Taiwan Strait to continue constructive dialogue to achieve unification.
Although he mostly rehashed the same party rhetoric, Xi notably clarified Beijing’s interpretation of the so called “1992 consensus,” envisioning a unified China — the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — under a “one country, two systems” plan with Taiwan. In other words, Beijing defined the stipulations of the so called “1992 consensus” as both sides of the Taiwan Strait constituting “one China” (the PRC) with its capital in Beijing, on the basis of “one country, two systems.” This was the first time Beijing merged the two guiding principles in one statement and stated its position so clearly, drastically altering the dynamics of cross-Strait relations. Xi also once again threatened the use of force if “peaceful unification” were not possible and shuttered off all non-unification alternative frameworks in the Taiwan Strait.
That same day, President Tsai Ing-wen hit back with a statement in response Xi’s speech. Standing in the Presidential Office auditorium, Tsai refused to accept the “1992 consensus” and also rejected the framework of “one country, two systems.” Tsai asserted that “the vast majority of Taiwanese also resolutely oppose ‘one country, two systems,’” suggesting that this rejection was tantamount to a “Taiwan consensus.” Her prompt and emphatic retort to Xi’s unilateral demands was a refreshing change that strayed from her usual restrained attitude toward cross-Strait relations. This outright denunciation of Xi’s statements proves that President Tsai has the resolve to set the record straight about Taiwan’s international status. Her firm response not only symbolizes the voice of the majority of Taiwanese, but also serves as a reminder to Beijing that Taipei will not give up and lay down when it comes to defending its sovereignty and way of life.
President Tsai’s unwavering attitude has breathed new life into her administration and is a cause for patriotic celebration across the nation.
President Tsai had actually struck first in a preemptive speech on New Year’s Day, in which she encouraged a peaceful approach to cross-Strait relations and emphasized Taiwan’s sovereignty. Listing the basic foundations for improved cross-Strait relations under “Four musts,” Tsai called on China to “face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan)” and to “respect the commitment of the 23 million people of Taiwan to freedom and democracy.” Furthermore, she challenged China to drop “preconceived ideas” and “set aside antagonisms” in order to focus on peace in the Taiwan Strait.
President Tsai’s unwavering attitude has breathed new life into her administration and is a cause for patriotic celebration across the nation. In the days after her response to Xi’s speech, there was a surge of praise and support from many corners of Taiwanese society. A small group of opposition parties also voiced their support for Tsai, all unanimously rejecting Beijing’s “one country, two systems” framework. Many foreign experts abroad also made similar remarks.
It is quite rare to see such unity among Taiwanese, not to mention rival political parties. That is why it is vital that President Tsai strike while the iron is hot and use the resulting support from this incident to tackle domestic issues, including, but not limited to, legalizing gay marriage, implementing additional environmental protections, and more advocacy for aboriginal rights. With the same level of confidence, Tsai could revitalize efforts to tackle these challenges. Of course, each of these issues is extremely contentious and difficult to address in one fell swoop. However, Tsai could be more vocal in her stances and encourage more legislative action to ensure progress. Doing so would not only help garner more support and approval, but also highlight the glaring differences between authoritarian China and democratic Taiwan, proving once again that Xi’s dream of unification through the “1992 consensus” and the “one country, two systems” framework is utterly infeasible.
President Tsai has shown that she can be assertive when needed, and she should continue to do so in regard to domestic issues in order to maintain Taiwan’s autonomy and democratic way of life. In doing so, she will be fighting for Taiwanese independence without disturbing the “status quo” and finish the last year of her first term on a good note.
Top photo courtesy of the Tsai Ing-wen official Facebook page.
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