A paper presented at the Foundation for International and Cross-Strait Studies-Brookings Institution Conference on Washington-Taipei-Beijing Relations: Variables & Prospects
Cross-Strait economic relations are robust, but there is stalemate on most political issues. Each side pretends to make acceptable offers, but both know that their proposals will be rejected. This is not merely frustrating, it is harmful to any effort to overcome existing mutual mistrust.
Beijing has concluded that President Chen Shui-bian cannot move to de jure independence through constitutional change before he leaves office, but it worries that he will find a way to manipulate the situation so as to foster continuing separatist trends after he steps down. It sees the DPP referendum on joining the UN “in the name of ‘Taiwan'” in this light, and is considering how to respond to its passage, especially if Frank Hsieh wins the presidency. Even if Ma wins, the Mainland is concerned about trends in domestic political opinion in Taiwan.
The two candidates have differing approaches to various aspects of cross-Strait relations, and Beijing will need to assess those approaches as it considers how to respond to the election results. Still, the PRC wants to avoid another four or eight years of confrontation and would like to find ways to generate smoother cross-Strait relations, whoever wins in March.
Although the United States will not want to become directly involved in the course of cross-Strait developments, its national interests will continue to guide U.S. policy to ensure that neither side upsets peace and stability or unilaterally seeks to change the status quo. Neither side should assume that the United States is not serious about its views.
It is unlikely that either side of the Strait would purposely precipitate a crisis, but the risks of miscalculation remain, so this is a moment of uncertainty. But there is also opportunity. Both sides have responsibility to exercise the leadership and vision to achieve positive outcomes.
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