Former AIT head cautions against partisan divide in Taiwan

02/27/2019 06:13 PM
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Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Richard Bush / CNA file photo
Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Richard Bush / CNA file photo

Washington, Feb. 26 (CNA) China is the biggest beneficiary of a divided Taiwan and the major political parties in Taiwan should seek consensus in addressing the challenges the country faces, according to former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Richard Bush and U.S. think tank scholar Ryan Hass.

Bush and Hass, both fellows at the John L. Thornton China Center of the Brookings Institution, said in a co-authored report titled "Taiwan's Democracy and the China Challenge" that while domestic issues have played a significant role in each of the presidential elections in Taiwan, cross-strait issues also figured prominently.

In the report, released earlier this month, the authors said that about 60 percent of Taiwanese people have expressed a preference for maintaining the cross-strait status quo during the three transfers of power between the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party following the first direct presidential election in 1996, according to polling by the Taiwan National Security Survey.

In the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections, Taiwan voters demonstrated their preference for balancing the perceived excesses of the incumbent's approach to cross-strait relations by shifting the presidency to the other party, according to the authors.

However, such a voting pattern and the clear preference for the status quo has not translated into progress by any leader in forging an enduring centrist consensus on how to stabilize the relationship with China and explore, even tentatively, how to resolve the fundamental dispute with Beijing, the authors wrote.

Partisans in both major political parties maintain entrenched concerns about the implications of the other's policy on cross-strait issues, according to Bush and Hass.

"The biggest beneficiary of a divided Taiwan is the mainland. China is united in its single-minded pursuit of unification while Taipei is divided on how to respond," they said.

"This has enabled Beijing to significantly increase pressure on Taiwan as Taipei remains largely consumed by its own partisan debates," they added.

In recent months, Beijing has also reduced Taiwan's international space by luring away diplomatic allies and obstructing Taiwan's participation in international fora.

On security issues, Beijing has intensified its military presence around the entirety of Taiwan, according to the report.

Economically, China has announced preferential policies to attract young innovators and companies from Taiwan to relocate to the mainland, just as it has sought to intimidate foreign companies into accepting Beijing's nomenclature on Taiwan as a condition for operating there, according to Bush and Hass.

In the face of a multi-pronged pressure campaign from China, Taiwan's political system remains fairly gridlocked and largely consumed by long-standing differences over domestic issues, the report said.

Political leaders have been unable or unwilling to formulate the tough choices surrounding Taiwan's China challenge, Bush and Hass wrote.

In the report, the two authors offered suggestions for Taiwan, including a focus on institutional changes that are procedurally achievable.

They also said Taiwan should strive to build a centrist consensus between the leaderships of the two major parties to make the political system more effective in addressing the challenges the country faces.

This should include institutional changes in the Legislative Yuan and the Judiciary to reduce incentives for members to engage in political conflict, they added.

Bush and Hass also urged China to take seriously the views of the Taiwan public and the centrality of the democratic system through which those views are expressed.

(By Chiang Chin-ye and Evelyn Kao)


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