What you need to know
Tsai stated China must recognize Taiwan's existence and respect its commitment to democracy.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), in a New Year’s Day speech on Tuesday, proposed a foundation for improving relations between Taiwan and China which she termed the “Four Musts.”
Tsai said the Chinese government must recognize the existence of the Republic of China (ROC), respect the commitment of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens to freedom and democracy, peacefully handle cross-Strait differences “on a basis of equality,” and engage in negotiations with the Taiwan government or government-authorized representatives.
“Cross-Strait exchanges must be healthy and normal,” said Tsai. “They cannot depend on vague political preconditions or forced submission to ‘passwords’ or acceptable phrases.”
Tsai cited China’s failure to share “accurate, real-time reports” about its recent African swine fever epidemic, which Taiwan fears will spread to the island and impact its pig-farming industry. If this happens, said Tsai, “it will give the Taiwan public a negative impression of China. And that is something we do not welcome.”
The New Year’s Day speech marked the first time Tsai had proposed the “Four Musts” as a cross-Strait framework.
Tsai continued by vowing to set up a security network for cross-Strait exchanges, consisting of three parts: securing people’s livelihoods, protecting democracy in cross-Strait interactions, and strengthening information security against threats of cyberattacks and disinformation.
Tsai also rejected the notion that the Nov. 24, 2018 election defeat suffered by her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was due to dissatisfaction with her administration’s cross-Strait policy.
In contrast to the notorious belief of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) that “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family,” Tsai said she was not opposed to cross-Strait exchanges but insisted the two sides must understand the “fundamental differences in the values we espouse, our lifestyles, and our political systems.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to give a speech concerning Taiwan at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 2.
‘Four Musts’ a first for Tsai
Prior to 2019, Tsai had not given a New Year’s Day speech as President, a longtime tradition for Taiwanese leaders.
Tsai had also not articulated her “Four Musts” cross-Strait framework, which she called “the most basic and crucial foundations that will determine whether cross-strait relations develop in a positive direction.”
Her new framework comes months after former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) proposed a new “three noes”: no dismissing the possibility of unification with China, no support for Taiwanese independence, and no use of force in a conflict with China.
Tsai called Ma’s remarks, put forth at a November 2018 forum marking the three-year anniversary of his summit with President Xi Jinping, “very inappropriate.”
The new “three noes” are an inverted reimagining of the original “three noes” of former President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) of “no contact, no compromise and no negotiation” with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), put forth in April 1979 months after the United States broke diplomatic ties with the ROC.
Jan. 1, 2019 marked the 40-year anniversary of the U.S. decision to sever ties with the ROC in favor of recognizing the PRC.
Deep breath ahead of Xi speech
Tsai’s calls for a cross-Strait framework based on mutual respect may be challenged in a major speech to be delivered by Xi Jinping on the morning of Jan. 2.
Tsai and the DPP do not recognize the so-called “1992 Consensus,” a term referring to a supposed agreement between the ROC and People’s Republic of China (PRC) governments that both parties agree there is only one China, but do not agree on what constitutes that China.
Beijing has made recognition of the 1992 Consensus paramount to establishing any sort of relations with Taiwan.
While ties between the CCP and Tsai’s DPP have been strained since Tsai came to power in 2016, Taiwan’s incoming Kuomintang (KMT) mayors such as Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of Kaohsiung have pledged their commitment to the 1992 Consensus in establishing municipal-level ties with China.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a presumptive 2020 presidential candidate, reiterated his belief that “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family” at last month’s Shanghai-Taipei forum.
However, on the sidelines of the forum, Ko, an independent, said there was a need for new cross-Strait terminology, stating his belief that terms such as “1992 Consensus” and “the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family” had been deemed pro-China propaganda in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s government says it has recently been frustrated in its efforts to receive accurate information from China on the spread of African swine fever, a virus deadly to pigs which it desperately wants to keep off its shores. Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture has said it has issued five official requests for information and has received no response. According to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, a Chinese government spokesman claims that previous non-official information channels were severed in 2017 due to changes in “the relevant Taiwanese government organization.” It did not elaborate on what these changes were, or which side instigated the discontinuation of the channels.
It remains to be seen which cross-Strait terminology Xi Jinping will utilize in his upcoming speech. A Jan. 1 editorial in the PLA Daily, the official newspaper of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), said China’s 2019 military priorities were to strengthen training and prepare for war, according to the South China Morning Post.
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