What's the future of cross-Strait ties after Taiwan election?
Tom Fowdy
The Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan, southeast China.

The Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taipei, Taiwan, southeast China.

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Last night's Taiwan leadership elections saw Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) receive a second term in a result that was largely anticipated by observers. Defeating Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Han Kuo-yu, inevitably the result has buoyed a narrative by her and the Western media that Taiwan is "rejecting" the Chinese mainland and turning down options of reunification, an impact derived from changing political identity in the island as well as the impact of Hong Kong protests.

What is the significance of this result? Tsai and forces who claim for "Taiwan independence" are likely to be emboldened by the victory, as well as those in Washington who are "supporting" her. This means Taiwan is likely to try and tilt further towards the United States and push harder against the mainland. For the mainland, it should be made obvious that their position on Taiwan is unchanged.

Given this, the outcome is likely to see renewed difficulties in cross-Strait relations. Also, given that the Chinese mainland will want to ensure no "red-lines" are crossed, and its position on reunification, the unveiled result of this election indicates that not a great deal will change.

Tsai Ing-wen has taken a gamble of pushing against the central government. Before she received renewed interests from Washington hawks and weaponized events in Hong Kong, she was unpopular and unlikely to be re-elected. Despite the media narrative, her policies with the Chinese mainland have not been successful as they have accumulated in the island's growing international isolation with a dwindling of diplomatic partners and reduced access to international organizations.

Although Taiwan's economy has gained a short term boost from the trade war with some manufacturers returning, nevertheless Tsai's "go south" policy which has sought to lessen economic reliance on the mainland has also not been successful, with Taiwan remaining excluded from all regional trade blocks such as the TPP and RCEP.

Simple geography has made it impossible to truly diversify and dilute business with the mainland, with high numbers of locals pursuing commerce and careers there. Before events in Hong Kong occurred, these outcomes also reflected poorly on her score.

Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the DPP in Taiwan, southeast China.

Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the DPP in Taiwan, southeast China.

Still, politics is about narratives and not empiricism: Having won, Tsai will now take this outcome as a complete vindication of her platform and aim to push back against the Chinese mainland further in the pursuit of the alleged "formal independence", emboldened by increasing "support" from American politicians. However, any move to do is likely to trigger proportional responses from the mainland. The one-China principle and reunification are keystones of the Chinese mainland's foreign policy doctrine and non-negotiable.

Therefore, attempts to challenge this are conceived through the logic of deterrence.

Such is that is the Chinese mainland seeks to prevent political "red lines" from being crossed by Taiwan and others and preventing its own sovereignty from being diluted, thus preventing changes to the status quo on Taiwan's behalf. If Taiwan were to push back, then Beijing would respond reciprocally. On these grounds, the election result does not change a great deal in practice, even if it poses a further deterioration in cross-Strait relations. Taiwan still has to face the issue negotiating with the mainland, past consensuses in negotiations, and the circumstances from its origin.

Therefore, whilst local identity and sentiment in Taiwan are changing in ways unfavorable to the Chinese mainland, it is ultimately important for the DPP to be pragmatic. The island's position and affiliation to the mainland are just not going to go away, shutting out the mainland will prove a mistake, as many aspects of its own development are already overtaking Taiwan and will yet do so in the space of a decade.

Tsai's claim that "One Country, Two Systems" is a failed model is a somewhat misleading claim, which is not the only narrative induced, but cutting and pasting a very different situation in Hong Kong onto the island in a purposefully cynical way. The mainland is making it clear that it wants peaceful, cross-Strait negotiations.

However, for this to take place, the Chinese mainland observes Tsai Ing-wen must accept the 1992 consensus and stop whipping up hostility and fear for political gain. It is important for observers to understand ultimately why the reunification issue matters so deeply to China, and to stop misleadingly portraying such as an act of aggression and instead, an endeavor to undo the justices of the past and restore national unity.

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