China suspends comms with Taiwan

The Taiwan Affairs Office, the body nominally responsible for orchestrating and executing China’s Taiwan policy, recently announced the suspension of the cross-strait communication mechanism. It was established during President Ma’s tenure to help manage increasingly complex and multifaceted interactions between the two sides. A TAO spokesperson linked the suspension to Tsai’s failure to signal her recognition of the “1992 Consensus”.

Tsai’s acceptance of the “1992 Consensus” as a historical fact (without agreeing to its contents) and pledge to uphold the status quo in accordance with the ROC Constitution, has been insufficient to meet Beijing’s demands for her to demonstrate “sincerity”. Yet, while Tsai does not accept the “1992 Consensus”, neither does Beijing: It has never agreed to the “respective interpretations” qualifier to “one China”. However, Taiwanese leaders’, specifically President Ma, propensity to acknowledge “1992” has become Beijing’s bottom line proxy for acknowledging “One China”.

I would not go so far to say that Beijing has hereby declared a refusal to work with Taiwan under a DPP government, but it shows what Beijing’s tactic is going to be: A gradual turning of the screw, making it more difficult for Taiwan to manage the complex interactions between the two sides and perform its obligations of state. In recent days and months this has been exemplified by suspected Taiwanese criminals being deported to China from Kenya and most recently Cambodia, when the representations of the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs were simply ignored.

The timing of the decision is not accidental, coming during Tsai Ing-wen’s first overseas trip as President. While her visit to Central American allies is not out of the ordinary, she has been granted stopovers in the US on both outward and return journeys. And having previously made a good impression in the US, she has been granted a warm (though not ostentatious) welcome. It is typical of tit-for-tat Chinese tactics that a (moderate) opportunity for Tsai to appear on the international stage as a stateswoman would be accompanied by some kind of sanction.

This is not about “escalating tensions”; it is a tactical punishment and part of a drip by drip approach to circumscribing and complicating Tsai’s capacity to manage practical interactions between Taiwan and China. It is an inconvenience, but more symbolic than coup de grace at this point. But it is also a sign of things to come.

I have also commented on this issue for the NYT.