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Panama's defection damages cross-strait ties: scholars

ROC Central News Agency

2017/06/13 22:27:43

Taipei, June 13 (CNA) The decision of Panama to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing "has shaken cross-strait relations" and the already strained ties are expected to deteriorate further, Taiwanese scholars said on Tuesday.

Fan Shih-ping (范世平), a professor at National Taiwan Normal University's Graduate Institute of Political Science, said that since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016 she has sought to adopt an unprovocative approach to Beijing.

However, recent incidents, including Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Assembly this year due to China's obstruction and the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Panama, indicate that cross-strait relations are on "shaky ground," Fan said.

The Tsai administration, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), might be forced to adjust its cross-strait policy and take a tougher stance, if Beijing's actions boost support for Taiwan independence among the Taiwanese public, Fan said.

Expressing a similar view, Yan Jiann-fa (顏建發), a former director of the DPP's China Affairs Department and currently an associate professor in Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology's Department of Business Administration, predicted that cross-strait ties will further deteriorate as China continues to suppress Taiwan's international space and take its diplomatic allies.

Yen Chen-shen (嚴震生), a research fellow at National Chengchi University's Institute of International Relations, said that the Tsai administration has sought to improve cross-strait ties, but due to its refusal to accept the "1992 consensus" as the sole foundation for bilateral exchanges, cross-strait dialogue has remained frozen.

In such a situation, a diplomatic truce will be very difficult to achieve, Yen said.

However, Teng Chung-chian (鄧中堅), a professor in National Chengchi University's Department of Diplomacy, predicted that after China establishes diplomatic ties with Panama, Beijing will not target any other of Taiwan's diplomatic allies in the near future.

If Beijing were to do so, it would further hurt the feelings of Taiwanese people and it is not in Beijing's interest to make cross-strait relations that bad, Teng said.

Moreover, Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies are economically less developed, with a focus on agriculture, mining and other industries, he said, adding that establishing ties with those countries is not a priority for China.

In addition, if Beijing continues to snatch Taiwan's diplomatic allies in Latin America, that could trigger complaints from the U.S. Republican Party, which would call on President Donald Trump to take action, Teng said.

Hung Chi-chang (洪奇昌), former head of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, a semi-official organization responsible for cross-strait negotiations, said that Beijing will take into account the opinion of the Taiwanese public.

If China tried to take all of Taiwan's diplomatic allies, that could result in more Taiwanese supporting Taiwan independence, Hung said.

Hung also noted that Trump has sought to advance trade relations with China since he took office earlier this year, and therefore, Taiwan should not expect Washington to take Taiwan's side.

Panama's Vice President Isabel Saint Malo signed a joint communique with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) in Beijing on Tuesday, formally establishing diplomatic relations, in which Panama stressed that it would not maintain any official ties with Taiwan.

The move was widely seen as part of China's mounting effort to isolate Taiwan internationally since Tsai took office. Tsai's government has adopted a less conciliatory attitude toward Beijing than its predecessor.

Panama was the second diplomatic ally to cut ties with Taiwan since Tsai took office, the first being Sao Tome and Principe, which recognized Beijing in December 2016.

(By Miu Chung-han and Elaine Hou)

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