The recent election of Tsai Ing-wen as president of Taiwan was significant for many reasons, argued Stimson Center Distinguished Fellow Alan Romberg. Her election represented “an impressive display of democracy in Taiwan,” Romberg noted, though “it remains to be seen if this marks a change in elections to come.” Romberg, who spent 27 years working on Asia issues at the U.S. State Department, spoke today at the Paulson Institute’s Contemporary China Speakers Series on the University of Chicago campus.
Looking forward, “Tsai faces some very serious problems” with economic, social welfare, and legal issues, said Romberg. This is primarily why she focused on mostly domestic issues during her campaign. While Tsai also campaigned on the notion of maintaining the status quo in cross-strait relations, Beijing doesn’t personally trust Tsai, as she does not accept their “One China” policy. However, over the past year, Tsai has been less pronounced about rejecting “One China” and has stopped using inflammatory buzzwords, Romberg noted. Instead, “she talked about being consistent, predictable, and sustainable in her relationship with the mainland. She changed her vocabulary about the mainland.”
So what does Tsai’s election mean for U.S.-China relations? According to Romberg’s observation, Tsai is trying to have all countries “give her a chance” despite her party’s historically pro-independence views. In terms of managing cross-Strait relations, “the United States has been pressing very hard for a long time to have both sides be flexible, creative, and restrained,” said Romberg. “And yet, we see things moving in a direction where I don’t think there’s going to be a crisis; we’re not in a Taiwan independence issue, but where we could have problems. And frankly, I don’t know how the U.S. is going to respond to that.”