Taiwan's status quo being tested by China: The China Post

Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech at a party congress in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan, on Sept 19, 2015.
Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech at a party congress in Taoyuan, northern Taiwan, on Sept 19, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Oct 19, 2015, The China Post reminds Taipei to think of its overall position in dealing with China

Taipei has conveyed its protest to Beijing over a new electronic entry permit the Chinese Communist government now gives travellers from Taiwan.

On top of concerns that the card, which is embedded with an IC chip, may expose the card holder to information leakage or spying, Taipei has been angered by the fact that Beijing unilaterally decided to issue the new form of entry permit for Taiwan visitors without prior consultation between the two governments.

The protest has not resulted in a U-turn in the decision, which is in line with Beijing's assertion that Taiwan is part of mainland China.

The card is similar to the entry permits that China requires of its nationals who live in Hong Kong and Macau when they travel to the mainland.

While this won't immediately bring Taiwan under mainland Chinese rule, it marks yet another step that Beijing has taken to change the cross-strait status quo.

An ill-defined idea, the cross-strait status quo commonly refers to the understanding that the two sides are ruled by two separate governments, and that they both observe some tacit agreements, such as the one that runs an imaginary line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait that divides the marine and air space between the two sides.

Both sides have practically observed the demarcation for years, refraining from breaching the divide in order to avoid conflicts.

But Beijing in recent months has been putting the divide to the test.

Earlier this year, it redrew a flight corridor in the Taiwan Strait nearer to the central divide, prompting Taiwan to lodge a protest, citing a potential hazard to air traffic and Taiwan's airspace.

The change in the flight corridor might also allow China's military aircraft to fly closer to the middle line, posing a greater threat to Taiwan.

Beijing later agreed to move the corridor some distance back toward its side.

China has made another attempt to break the middle line recently.

In this week's official cross-strait talks on transport and trade - where Taipei negotiators lodged their protest over the electronic entry permit - there was no consensus on allowing Chinese air travelers to transfer in Taiwan en route to and from other destinations.

Underlying the failure was Taiwan's refusal to let planes carrying these travelers to fly straight across the central divide, as demanded by China.

We can clearly see how Beijing has been trying to change the cross-strait status quo, which the ROC government and most opposition leaders in Taiwan vow to maintain and yet are finding harder and harder to defend.

Tsai Ing-wen, the chief of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party who stands an overwhelming chance of becoming the next president, has often been questioned regarding her promise to keep the cross-strait status quo.

The ruling Kuomintang has demanded that she clearly spell out the "cross-strait status quo" she is promising to maintain.

It is a challenge trying to force her to openly accept the KMT-invented term "1992 Consensus" that surrounds the "one China" concept.

Although Beijing also embraces the term "1992 Consensus," it gives it rather a different meaning.

Taipei emphasizes the part that says both sides agree to disagree on the meaning of "one China."

However, Beijing stresses that the consensus means both sides adhere to the "one China principle," a framework within that says Beijing is the sole legitimate ruler of all of China, including Taiwan.

The KMT says it is keen on maintaining the cross-strait status quo - clearly its version of the status quo - but Beijing is eager to force changes to assert its claims.

The new permit is one of such changes. The airspace issue is another bid to force such changes.

As a matter of fact, cross-strait relations have seen a lot of changes over the past two decades, and more are expected to come for whoever becomes the next president of Taiwan.

But the big question is: Where is Taiwan's bottom line in terms of its status quo in the face of changes in its dealings with China?

* The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.