Cross-Strait relations have rapidly improved in the last 8 years, involving President Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration in 2008. The Chinese government welcomed Ma’s victory, hoping this would decrease Taiwan’s independence claims and form the basis for the resumption of Cross-Strait discussion. Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency restored the three links, including the commencement of direct flights. Furthermore, Ma’s “three no’s” policy on no unification, no independence and no use of force, enabled Cross-Strait relations to be stabilized, and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was signed by the two governments in 2010.
This brings up the question: why did the preceding President Chen Shui-bian’s administration initiate policies on Taiwan independence despite the risk of military conflict? The first explanation is the inefficiency of China’s ability to deter Taiwan due to doubts on whether China had the will and ability to start a war over Taiwan’s proclamation for independence. However, China secured its military power through economic development, and as the political status of Taiwan concerned territorial sovereignty, a threat to the traditions and governance of the Communist Party of China, had intentions for military intervention. Although Taiwan believed the US would repress China’s military power due to the Taiwan Relations Act, the US government opposed both China using force and Taiwan’s pursuit of independence.
The second explanation can be found within Taiwan’s domestic affairs. The development of Taiwanese identity alongside the pressure from electoral competition fueled the demand for Taiwan’s pursuit of independence. Changes to Taiwanese national identity had a significant influence on Taiwanese politics. Nevertheless, there are limitations to this explanation, as the majority of Taiwanese support the preservation of the status quo and oppose an immediate shift to reunification or independence due to the threat of Chinese military power.
The third explanation arises from Chen’s personal determination towards Taiwan independence. He was willing to risk internal opposition and the threat of war to pursue a political goal. This is the most compelling explanation. Under the democratic Taiwanese system, Chen’s policies towards Taiwan independence caused backlash and lead to his defeat in the 2008 election. Consequently, Ma Ying-jeou, who was Chairman of the Kuomintang and favored reunification, assumed office. Ma was reelected in 2012 over Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, winning by 51.6% over 45.6%. Although this was a decline from 58.4% in 2008, Ma was able to be reelected due to the potential for economic growth from an increase in Cross-Strait investments and trade. Thus, improvements in Cross-Strait relations can be seen as a result of Taiwan’s switch in leadership.
What are the implications of the changes in Cross-Strait relations on North Korea-South Korea relations? Since North Korea functions under a totalitarian dictatorship, unlike Taiwan, it is unlikely that there will be a periodic election causing a shift in power. Up to this point, the relationship between the two Koreas has centered on political agreements through which official government led discussions have been pursued, while social exchanges in the private sector have been restricted. On the contrary, official discussions between Chinese and Taiwanese government in Cross-Strait relations remains limited, but socio-economic exchanges between China and Taiwan in the private sector has been active. As changes in North Korea’s political system are improbable, increasing socio-economic exchanges through the private sector must be considered, although progress could be gradual and limited. In situations where changes in government are unlikely, the private sector may be the appropriate starting point for North Korea-South Korea relations.
Translated by Hyunju Ban