Taiwan’s 2012 Presidential Elections and Cross-Strait Relations

Implications for the United States

Since Ma Ying-jeou assumed the presidency in 2008, relations across the Taiwan Strait have improved dramatically. In the past three and half years, 16 agreements have been signed on practical matters that have largely benefited the people on both sides of the Strait. Restrictions on trade and economic ties between Taiwan and mainland China are gradually being dismantled. Cooperation is taking place between government bureaucracies on both sides of the Strait in many areas, including crime fighting by law enforcement agencies, establishment of a cross-Strait medical emergency hotline, and search-and-rescue exercises by coast guards and local maritime agencies. Habits of cooperation are being formed that could pave the way for discussion of sensitive political and military issues in the years to come.

The presidential election in Taiwan, scheduled for January 14, 2012, will have an impact on the cross-Strait situation regardless of the outcome. If President Ma is re-elected 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.

A victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, would create different challenges. Tsai 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. Beijing is watching the presidential campaign in Taiwan with great concern, and China’s leadership is pessimistic about the prospects for maintaining cross-Strait stability and progress if the DPP returns to power.

Bonnie S. Glaser

Brittany Billingsley