Categories
International Relations

Why Panama Matters

Image courtesy of Nicolas Raymond/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 27 June 2017.

On June 13, Panama switched diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC or Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China). Panama City and Beijing jointly announced that “the Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.” Panama’s defection should serve as a “wakeup call” for the present administration in Taipei. To be sure, something needs to change.

After learning of the loss of one of Taiwan’s oldest friends, officials in Taipei – including President Tsai Ing-wen – lashed out at Panama for its shocking “betrayal.” Authorities also blasted the PRC for “oppressing” Taiwan. Senior officials even went so far as to threaten that the Tsai administration would consider all of its options while rethinking relations with the Chinese mainland. Paradoxically, anti-China pundits based in Taiwan (and elsewhere) put a different spin on the diplomatic defection. Some argued that the loss of Panama didn’t matter, while others claimed that Beijing had returned to the practice of “checkbook diplomacy” (bribing small countries to switch diplomatic relations). But these interpretations fall short.

Categories
Politics

President Tsai: Respect the Will of the People and Accept the ‘1992 Consensus’

Dragon fight
Courtesy of mykaul/Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 19 January 2017.

Roughly one year has passed since Tsai Ing-wen, presidential candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a party supporting Taiwan’s de jure independence from China, was elected president of the Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan).  Throughout Taiwan’s 2015-16 election cycle, Tsai refused to endorse the “1992 Consensus,” an understanding whereby both sides agree that there is one China, but hold different interpretations as to what this means.  The arrangement enabled Taipei and Beijing to move relations forward and reduce cross-strait tensions to an unprecedented level from 2008 to 2016.  Rather than employ this approach, Tsai sidestepped the issue by claiming she supported the “status quo” and would handle relations with Beijing in accordance with “the will of the Taiwan people” and Taiwan’s constitution.

Following Tsai’s election, Beijing has slowly applied different measures to convince her administration to return to the “1992 Consensus.”  In June, Beijing suspended all official contact with Taiwan.  The Chinese government then cut the number of mainland tourists allowed to visit Taiwan, a move igniting protests by those dependent on the tourism industry.  The island was also locked out of the 39th assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization.  And Beijing began to accede to requests by Taipei’s few remaining diplomatic allies to switch recognition to Beijing (São Tomé and Príncipe dropped Taiwan in December).  Perhaps most worrisome, however, are recent threats by China’s state-run media outlets and the military exercises in the waters surrounding Taiwan. How should Taiwan respond to these developments?