By: Justin Kwan – justin.kwan [at] alumni.ubc.ca
While the historic meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping, the first between the leaders of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, has been described as Beijing’s way to “pre-emptively constrain the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] ahead of its likely victory,” its effect on the upcoming Taiwan’s domestic politics has been more salient for generating pressure on the DPP Presidential Candidate Tsai Ing-wen to better define her Cross-Strait policy before the January 2016 election.
Tsai’s opponent, Kuomintang (KMT) Presidential Candidate Eric Chu, has been using the Ma-Xi meeting to argue that only the KMT can peacefully deal with Cross-Strait Relations. Chu has criticized Tsai for “dodg[ing]…questions on how the status quo can be maintained without the DPP recognizing the foundation of the  consensus.”
In the 2012 presidential election, Tsai campaigned under a pro-Taiwan platform which sought a “Taiwan Consensus,” aligned with her party’s independence viewpoint. However, this time around, Tsai has remained relatively quiet on Cross-Strait issues. The public knows that Tsai, as former Chair of the Mainland Affairs Council, is experienced in Cross-Strait negotiations.
But Tsai and the DPP are concerned about alienating one of the two pillars of its popular support. Tsai must adhere to a moderate position between her core Pan-Green supporters who want independence and the voters she has captured by moving her party towards the centre of Taiwan’s political spectrum. Although the latter move has significantly increased the DPP’s popularity, it has come at the cost of silencing increasingly impatient independence supporters.
By adhering to the position that the DPP will maintain the status-quo, Tsai has avoided exacerbating internal party divisions. However, the Ma-Xi meeting is a reminder that the status quo is already shifting towards closer ties between the Mainland and Taiwan. The KMT in this respect has gained the upper hand to force Tsai to respond.
Although Tsai holds a significant lead over her opponents in the polls, her victory is hardly guaranteed. As the candidates prepare for the upcoming Presidential Televised Debates, Chu’s next strategy will be to confront Tsai and discredit her Cross-Strait policy. Where the DPP leader stands on the important issues of economic integration with and political autonomy from the PRC will be a key point the remaining days of the campaign.
Justin Kwan is a Master of Arts Candidate in Asia Pacific Policy Studies at the University of British Columbia. His research examines Hong Kong and Taiwan from a comparative perspective. Follow him on Twitter or visit his webpage.
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- Tsai Ing-wen, Ing’s Clique: The Last Mile to Light Up Taiwan (Chinese) 英派：點亮台灣的這一哩路 (Taipei: Eurasian Press Ltd), 2015.
- Taiwan Mood Barometer Survey, “Public Opinion Release: An investigation into the development of Taiwan’s Public Sentiments Towards the General Election and the Ma-Xi Meeting,” (Chinese) 「台灣民心動態調查、大選與馬習會」民調新聞稿, Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, November 11, 2015.
- Chin-Hao Huang and Patrick James, “Blue, Green or Aquamarine? Taiwan and the Status Quo Preference in Cross-Strait Relations,” The China Quarterly Vol 219, (September 2014).
- Phillip Wen, “China and Taiwan a ‘family’, says Xi Jinping at historic meeting of leaders,” The Sydney Morning Herald, November 8, 2015.
- Emily S. Chen, “The DPP’s strategic ambiguity toward China,” Center for Strategic and International Studies PacNet 51, August 19, 2015.
- J. Michael Cole, “The Ma-Xi Summit: Democracy is Thicker than Blood,” The National Interest, November 9, 2015.
See our other memos on Taiwan.