Taiwan elections: Beijing ‘will view Tsai Ing-wen’s victory as setback but not a crisis’

Minnie Chan

Tsai Ing-wen’s victory in the Taiwanese presidential election on Saturday is seen as a setback in cross-strait relations but will not lead to a major crisis, mainland Chinese military analysts and academics have said.

While Beijing will continue to apply pressure on Taipei, it will adopt a wait-it-out strategy instead of resorting to extreme measures in dealing with the self-ruling island, they said.

“There will certainly be more challenges with Tsai’s re-election but that does not mean [cross-strait ties] will fall into a crisis and much will depend on what Tsai will do in the coming four years,” said Ji Ye, associate professor of Taiwan Studies at Xiamen University in Fujian province, which faces Taiwan.

“The mainland will not apply maximum pressure to Tsai unless she takes drastic steps to provoke Beijing such as seeking support from the US and [creates trouble] by taking advantage of the rivalry and competition between China and the US,” he added.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen saw relations with Beijing deteriorating during her first term. Photo: EPA-EFE

Relations between Beijing and Taipei deteriorated during Tsai’s first four-year terms and last year she rebuffed a suggestion by President Xi Jinping that Taiwan should discuss reunification under the “one country, two systems” model in place in Hong Kong.

Li Zhengguang, a deputy director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Beijing Union University, said the election result had been expected and Beijing has learned over the years how to respond to the rise and fall of political parties in Taiwan.

Meet the mainland Chinese who bypassed Beijing’s travel ban to see the election

“Cross-strait relation may enter a cooling-off period but I am afraid this may be inevitable,” he said.

Mainland scholars and analysts have been following the elections in Taiwan closely but have largely refrained from commenting on the polls in recent weeks for fears that their views will further disadvantaged Han Kuo-yu, the defeated mainland-friendly candidate who was already trailing in the polls.

Beijing did not immediately respond to the election results but Xinhua, China’s official news agency, published a brief report shortly after Han gave his concession speech and acknowledged that Tsai had been re-elected the “regional leader for Taiwan area”.

Meanwhile, experts who are familiar with thinking of the People’s Liberation Army said Tsai’s victory would not drive Beijing into taking military action against the island.

They said the use of force would remain the last resort unless Taipei crosses a “red line” such as declaring independence.

“In Beijing’s view, all three candidates – Tsai, Han and [James] Soong [of the New People’s Party] actually have a clear tendency of [support for] Taiwan independence,” said Yue Gang, a retired PLA colonel.

Yue added that Beijing would likely step up the sabre-rattling using its propaganda machinery, economic clout and staging war games.

“[For China], the military is always subservient to the party,” Yue said. “Holding military drills would now be the most effective deterrent tool [to curb Taiwan’s independence].”

Taiwan elections: Tsai Ing-wen re-elected as president

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland – by force if necessary.

Li Jie, a retired senior naval colonel, said Tsai’s re-election could help the PLA to become “more forceful” in mapping out its strategy.

“Han has a rather ambiguous attitude towards the mainland but Tsai’s pro-independence stance is much clearer,” Li said. “This will enable the PLA to have a clearer mindset in shaping its Taiwan strategy.”

A Beijing-based incumbent military officer who requested anonymity agreed and said the US would be a crucial factor in the PLA’s calculations.

“Beijing is clear that none of the three candidates would accept the ‘one country, two systems’ model,” said the officer.

“But Beijing will be patient in dealing with Taiwan,” the officer said. “It still believes ‘one country, two systems’ remains the best way to solve the [Taiwan] problem and is willing to wait because it believes time is on its side.”

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