In her first major policy speech on cross-Strait relations after becoming the president of Taiwan (ROC) on May 20, Tsai Ing-wen called on Beijing’s leaders “to face up to the reality that the Republic of China exists” and that “[t]he two sides of the strait should sit down and talk as soon as possible.” Adding that “[a]nything can be included for discussion, as long as it is conducive to the development of cross-Strait peace and the welfare of people on both sides.”
Double Ten Day (雙十節)—also known as National Day (國慶日)—celebrates the start of the Wuchang Uprising (武昌起義) in 1911 that precipitated the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the ROC.
On stage commemorating the government’s 105th National Day, President Tsai delivered a wide-ranging speech that lead with the island’s pressing domestic issues, such as youth employment, affordable housing, pension reform, transitional justice, and industrial reform. President Tsai then re-emphasized her administration’s desire to maintain the “status quo” in relations between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and committed to “take proactive and forward-looking measures to promote constructive exchanges and dialogue across the Strait, in order to build a peaceful and stable cross-Strait relationship that endures.”
Interestingly, the cross-Strait relations section of the speech was preceded by an extensive discussion of Taiwan’s international space and the new government’s regional policy, such as the “New Southbound Policy.” More specifically, cross-Strait relations were addressed in the context of “regional developments.” This may be seen as an effort by the new administration to embed its “China policy” within a broader regional strategy, in contrast to the previous Ma Ying-jeou administration’s China-centric approach.
Expectedly, President Tsai’s National Day remarks tracked closely with the points laid out in her inauguration speech in both words and essence. The inauguration speech sets out both the legal and policy framework of her administration’s approach to cross-Strait relations. That framework is balanced on three pillars: (1) the spirit of the 1992 meeting and over 20 years of interactions and negotiations; (2) accordance with the Republic of China Constitution, and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and other relevant legislation; and (3) more generally, that the two governing parties across the Strait must set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides.
The deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Lin Cheng-yi (林正義), was in Washington in mid-September for a series of private and public talks on the new administration’s China policy. The cabinet-level administrative agency under the Executive Yuan is responsible for the planning, development, and implementation of policies between Taiwan and the PRC. At a public conference hosted at the Brookings Institution, Deputy Minister Lin stated that “In the past previous [DPP] government and the [inaudible] government did not accept the 1992 consensus. In the current government, we have a different interpretation on the 1992 consensus regarding the meaning, regarding the historic context.”
Indeed, the symbolic importance of President Tsai’s speech on Double Ten Day was not lost on political observers. Before the 104th National Day celebration, then candidate Tsai wrote: “Our nation [Taiwan] is facing a turning point in history. At this crucial moment, I want to use my presence to let people know we are determined to respect differences, willing to seek consensus, and unrelenting in building unity,” she added. “What we need now is not just to unite a party, but to unite a nation.”
In an article entitled “Countering China’s Psychological Warfare,” specialist in Asian Security Affairs Shirley Kan, formerly with the Congressional Research Service and now a GTI adviser, wrote “[a]s the homeland of the ROC, Taiwan also plays a role in an informed counter-narrative. The world will be reminded of this on the ROC (Taiwan)’s ‘Double Ten’ national day on October 10, a date still invoking the revolution that resulted in a republic in China 105 years ago.”
At an event commemorating the National Day in Washington, DC held at Twin Oaks, Taiwan’s de facto Ambassador to the United States, Stanley Kao, stated that “Taiwan proudly stands for full-fledged democracy, freedom of speech, religion and the press, a vibrant market economy, rule of law, and abiding respect for human rights.” Ambassador Kao’s prepared remarks closed with: “viva USA, viva the ROC [Taiwan].”
Main point: The Tsai administration appears to be trying embed its China policy within a broader regional strategy, in contrast to the previous Ma Ying-jeou administration’s China-centric approach.