VOTE 2016: China’s State Media, Netizens React to Tsai’s VictoryAs expected, official media in China dished out warnings and veiled threats following the DPP’s historic victory on Saturday
Following Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) resounding victory on Saturday, the mood in Taiwan has been significantly upbeat. A Liberty Times editorial celebrated Tsai’s historic win. Tellingly, even the typically blue-inclined United Daily News published an editorial praising Tsai’s victory as a win for the Taiwanese people.
While most media in Taiwan celebrated Tsai’s win, across the Taiwan Strait state-sanctioned media and Netizens mostly worried about three things. First, that future of cross-strait relations are headed for an uncertain future; second, that Tsai’s victory will lead to estrangement between the two sides; and finally that tensions could increase (although most acknowledged that Tsai is no Chen Shui-bian, who served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008).
How China chooses to engage with a Tsai administration will reveal how it wishes to portray itself to the world.
Following the announcement of the election results the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office was quick to release a statement indicating that the elections would not influence its current policy towards Taiwan. Without offering congratulations or mentioning Tsai by name, the statement said that regardless of the election’s outcome China would continue to uphold the “1992 Consensus” and continue to reject “Taiwanese independence.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared these same sentiments. Hong Lei (洪磊), the ministry’s spokesman, reaffirmed that Taiwan was a matter for China’s “domestic affairs” and that “there is only one China in the world.” He further advised the international community to “adhere to the ‘one China’ principle” while urging for the “peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”
While the official response merely echoed old rhetoric without offering any indication of what new direction (if any) cross-strait relations would take, China’s state-owned media took a far more opinionated stance on Tsai’s election victory.
The future of cross-strait relations was the key theme of reports on the election. While one editorial in the Global Times had the benign title of “The Taiwanese people have chosen Tsai Ing-wen, not Taiwanese independence,” the content was slightly more combative, warning that Taiwanese independence is a “fantasy” and that if Tsai chooses to follow the same path as Chen Shui-bian she will meet “a dead end.”
The Global Times continued its menacing tone with another editorial accusing Tsai of “populism” for announcing that Taiwan’s cross-strait relations policy would be based on the will of the Taiwanese people. The author, of the view that China and Taiwan are the same country, asks, “How can you ignore the opinion of China’s 1.3 billion people? We must take into account the public opinion of both sides of the Taiwan straits to find the most common opinion of Greater China.”
A Xinhua News Agency article sought to play down the importance of Tsai’s victory. It quoted Liu Ping (相平), a scholar from Nanjing University, saying that Tsai’s election did not mean that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had performed well or that the Taiwanese people supported the DPP. Instead, Ping posited that the outcome was due to the bad performance of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Another Xinhua article took a similar approach, noting that the election result was decided on domestic issues. The author acknowledged the achievements of the KMT, but observed that Taiwan is now facing a range of difficult domestic problems. He concluded that voters chose a new party to lead “Taiwan out of the woods.” Nevertheless, both articles stated that voters in Taiwan wish to see the continuation of peaceful cross-strait relations and urged Tsai to acknowledge the “1992 consensus.”
The People’s Daily reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment to the “1992 consensus.” One editorial noted that China would strongly adhere to the so-called consensus while consolidating and deepening the “peaceful development” of cross-strait relations. Despite emphasizing the need for “peaceful development” of ties, the editorial nevertheless contained a veiled warning that China would “strongly oppose” any move toward Taiwanese independence.
One author of a Global Times opinion piece took a more pragmatic approach to resolving the “Taiwan Question.” The author suggested that Beijing must find a way to transmit its message “into the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese … and let the consciousness and minds of the Taiwanese people have an accurate understanding of Beijing.”
Chinese users of the micro blogging site Weibo mirrored the line adopted by mainstream media and also called for the continuation of the “one China policy.” As user @古风同志: said “as far as I can see, China simply gained a new female governor; I would like to ask the leaders of Taiwan to recall a law called the ‘Anti-Secession Law’! Taiwanese leaders must abide by the ‘1992 consensus’ and the ‘one China’ principle … we are one big family on both sides of the straits, we are all Chinese people!” User @李宇love巧克力 took a more optimistic (or pessimistic, depending from which side you view the matter) view. “It doesn’t matter, in four years’ time we can choose a new leader of the Taiwan Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.’
As elections are a sensitive matter in China, where any talk of change to the current political system is not tolerated, comments on the election were heavily censored. Some comments did slip through the reach of the censors, however, suggesting that many users in China are envious of the right of Taiwanese to vote.
With Tsai winning such a comprehensive victory in Taiwan and with a clear repudiation of the KMT’s China policy, as media coverage of the election suggests, Beijing is unlikely to take a heavy-handed approach to Taiwan. How Beijing continues to engage with the Tsai administration and the people of Taiwan will be a true test for China’s public diplomacy.
Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus is an Australian student, currently studying in Taiwan.