BEIJING -- Relations between China and Taiwan may grind to a halt if the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party wins next year's presidential and legislative elections on the island, says Peking University professor Li Yihu.
Since taking office in 2008, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has sought to strengthen the island's economic ties with the mainland. The two sides are now bound by an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. But public support for Ma has sunk. Some predict the DPP will sweep his Kuomintang out of power.
The Nikkei recently spoke with Li, dean of Peking University's Taiwan Studies Institute and a deputy of the National People's Congress, China's parliament. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: Why are President Ma's approval ratings so low?
A: [The ECFA] will have a positive effect on the Taiwanese economy over the medium to long term, but apart from tourism and a few other industries, most people aren't feeling the effects.
Now that Taiwan has become a post-industrial society, more people want to be sure that it can be happy despite being small. Mr. Ma won't have much of an effect by trying to convince them, "Here's how you'll benefit from the ECFA in a few years." The DPP is likely to win [the elections].
Q: Would the Communist Party of China try to stop the DPP from returning to power?
A: It would take a miracle to change Taiwan's way of thinking in the course of the coming year. A change of government in Taiwan is the "new normal." The mainland is naturally prepared for this psychologically.
Q: How would you characterize Chinese President Xi Jinping's Taiwan policy?
A: General Secretary Xi told members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on March 4 that relations with any Taiwanese party were possible as long as it respects the "one China" principle. This is the mainland's unwavering line.
Q: But the DPP doesn't respect that principle.
A: If the DPP wants to return to power, it needs to show Taiwanese voters a cross-strait policy they can agree with. DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen [the party's presumed presidential nominee] has learned the lesson that [ex-President] Chen Shui-bian's fiery, adventurist [i.e., pro-independence] approach didn't garner support from voters.
Even if the DPP returns to power, the mainland won't cancel measures that benefit our Taiwanese compatriots. But as long as the party does not acknowledge the "one China" principle, no new agreements are likely to be signed, and relations will probably come to a standstill.
-- Interview by Shuhei Yamada