Just hours after Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen landed on the island on her return from a trip to two Latin American countries, another, El Salvador, cut its “diplomatic relations” with Taipei, switching them to Beijing.
The timing is too sensitive to be acceptable, according to the enraged authorities in Taipei.
Indeed, it is both ironic and embarrassing for a diplomatic mission intended to cement, if not expand, international recognition to end up shrinking it. Let alone that Tsai and her colleagues have lobbied hard “through all channels” available to keep the Central American country on the shortening list of countries that have “diplomatic relations” with the island.
However “unacceptable” it is, it is an indication of the increasingly explicit, and inescapable, reality facing Tsai. The more she tries to enlarge international recognition for Taiwan as an independent entity, the smaller the space for her pursuit becomes.
Of course, what in others’ eyes was a slap in the face may not make Tsai rethink her approach and consider changing course. Shortly prior to losing El Salvador’s “diplomatic recognition”, upon arrival at Taiwan's international airport, she said “pressure” “would only boost our determination to go abroad”.
But Tsai is significantly overestimating her capability for sustaining a confrontational approach to cross-Straits ties. Since assuming office on May 20, 2016, she has lost the “diplomatic recognition” of five countries. El Salvador is the third this year.
Although Taiwan still has “diplomatic relations” with 17 countries, nobody knows whether there will be a next, who it will be, and when. But what is likely is Tsai’s losing streak will continue if she continues with her anti-mainland stunts. Cross-Straits relations do not have to be like this, though. The “pressure” Tsai and her like-minded colleagues feel is not aimed at Taiwan, or even her Democratic Progressive Party itself, but at their stubborn pursuit of “Taiwan independence”.
Beijing demonstrated its sincere desire to sustain the cross-Straits rapport established under the Kuomintang authorities prior to Tsai assuming office, stating it was willing to work with anyone who recognises there is only one China.
Under Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang, Taiwan did not have to worry about “pressure” from the mainland, nor did it lose any “diplomatic ally”. Instead, upholding the “one China” consensus brought various benefits to people on both sides of the Straits.
Tsai’s obsession with de facto independence is the obstacle to Taiwan’s pursuit of “international breathing space”.