By Bonnie Glaser & Brittany Billingsley
The presidential election in Taiwan, scheduled for January 14, 2012, will have a significant impact on the cross-Strait situation regardless of the outcome. If President Ma is reelected for a second term, Beijing may become impatient for faster progress toward reunification and put pressure on Ma’s government to launch talks aimed at settling political differences. Absent a domestic consensus on the island, cross-Strait political talks could be extremely divisive with possible negative repercussions both within Taiwan and between the two sides of the Strait.
If the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Tsai Ing-wen wins, she is unlikely to accept the two pillars on which mainland China has based its willingness to engage with Taipei: the 1992 Consensus on “one China” and opposition to Taiwan’s independence. Unless Beijing and Taipei can agree on a new formulation to guide their relationship, it is possible that cross-Strait interaction would slow and negotiations would cease. As of mid-November, polls show Ma in a dead heat with Tsai.
Beijing is watching the presidential campaign in Taiwan with great concern. Return of DPP rule could embolden domestic critics of Hu Jintao’s policy of pursuing “peaceful development” in cross-Strait relations to push for a tougher approach. Such a development on the eve of the leadership transition on the mainland could influence personnel arrangements and policies of the new leadership.
Much is at stake for the United States in Taiwan’s upcoming elections. Washington has a strong interest in the conduct of a free, fair, and open presidential election in Taiwan, not in supporting any particular candidate. At the same time, sustaining cross-Strait peace and stability is especially critical as the United States manages friction with Beijing on a broad range of economic, political, and security issues. To read our full report and additional analysis click here.
Bonnie Glaser is a senior fellow with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS in Washington, D.C. Brittany Billingsley is a research associate with the CSIS Freeman Chair.