The KMT’s China Policy: Gains and Failures

The KMT’s China policy under President Ma Ying-jeou has been based on four overarching aims. First, to stabilize cross-Strait relations that effectively came to a halt at the semi-official level during his predecessor Chen Shui-bian’s tenure. Second, to revive Taiwan’s economic fortunes through closer integration with the Chinese economy. Third, to balance the imperative of economic incentives with the maintenance of “national dignity”. Fourth, to roll back the “de-Sinicization” elements of Chen Shui-bian’s “Taiwanization” program by emphasizing elements of Taiwan’s Chinese cultural heritage and situating Taiwan within the framework of the greater Chinese nation. The underlying device used to pursue these aims has been the “1992 Consensus”, a rhetorical position regarding Taiwan’s status vis-à-vis China characterized by “One China, separate interpretations”. The “1992 Consensus” is controversial in Taiwan, but its ambiguities have created space for the two sides to develop a workable platform and a new level of momentum. During Ma’s tenure, this platform has yielded a number of practical agreements across several socio-economic sectors, including a limited free trade agreement, the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). When he stands down at the end of his second term in 2016, Ma Ying-jeou will leave cross-Strait relations in significantly better shape than when he began his presidency in 2008. In that sense, his China policy can be considered a success. However, such is the complicated and multifaceted nature of Taiwan’s engagement with China that Ma’s China policy cannot be measured by the tone of cross-Strait relations alone, or by the tenor of particular leaders’ personal interactions or KMT-CCP relations. Taiwan’s China policy has implications for its economy, society, foreign relations and many other policy sectors, and it remains one of the most contested arenas for domestic political competition, often, but not exclusively, refracted through the prism of national identity. Expanding our analytical lens to include these other arenas will demonstrate that the KMT’s China policy under Ma has produced mixed results that can be interpreted as successes or failures depending on one’s point of view. In this paper, we aim to provide a balanced assessment of Ma’s China policy, incorporating multiple perspectives and covering multiple policy sectors. Full paper here.

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