China Leadership Monitor

Taiwan Elections Head to the Finish: Concerns, Cautions, and Challenges

Friday, January 6, 2012

Two major political developments in recent weeks have played an important role in Taiwan’s presidential election: Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to Washington and the problems she encountered convincing American officials she has a workable formula to manage cross-Strait relations, and Ma Ying-jeou’s sudden promotion of the idea of “facing” the issue of a cross-Strait peace accord sometime in the next 10 years, which created a tempest in the campaign teapot. Although Washington strove to temper any impression that it was “taking sides” in the election, the concerns about management of cross-Strait relations remained. The United States went ahead with the much anticipated and very sizable arms sales, and while the PRC protested loudly, it took minimal actions in response. Instead, Beijing began to focus more publicly on the Taiwan political scene, speaking out more and more explicitly about the consequences of an administration in Taipei that did not accept some version of “one China” and oppose Taiwan independence. While there were still limits to how bluntly the PRC position was phrased in order to avoid triggering charges of blatant involvement in the election, concern over the actual outcome began to outweigh concerns about the Mainland’s image on Taiwan, and Beijing was increasingly direct in pointing out that there was no way around the “one China” issue.