Today, Mr. Wu meets Chinese President Hu Jintao. This marks the highest-level contact between the two nations in more than 60 years.
Mr. Ma’s ascendancy is a reversal of direction for Taiwan. His predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, in power since 2000, strained relations with China due to his support for Taiwan’s formal independence. Taiwan split from China in 1949 amid civil war. Yet China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to attack if Taiwan declares formal independence. The two nations have co-existed based on an ambiguous 1992 settlement known as the “92 consensus.” This agreement stipulates that there is “one China” but that Beijing and Taipei have different interpretations on how to define it.
Mr. Ma swept to power based primarily on an economic and pragmatic agenda. He promised not to focus on the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty: He too will uphold the policy of not reuniting with China. Yet he prefers not to discuss the issue. The new leader will attempt to revitalize the economy- which voters believe is stagnating. He therefore wants to start a dialogue with China in order to achieve “peace” and “co-prosperity” - as stated in his inaugural speech. He has pledged to reverse a decades-old ban on air links between Taiwan and China and to allow Chinese tourists to enter Taiwan - which could give a boost to Taiwan’s economy.
The United States welcomes the easing of tensions yet simultaneously fears that closer ties will push Taiwan further into China’s orbit. Washington wants to maintain the status quo whereby Taiwan’s vibrant democracy is preserved, China’s claims over Taiwan are not recognized and America retains links with its 10th-largest trading partner. Taiwan is also an essential security partner for the United States in the Western Pacific.
In order for this high-wire act to succeed in the long term, Washington must continue to offer Taiwan economic, political and strategic incentives. This is America’s best course to ensure the continued attention and goodwill of Taiwan.