Indefinite term for China's leader has implications for Taiwan

2018/03/12 17:09:56 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Jacques deLisle (right)/File photo

Jacques deLisle (right)/File photo

Washington, March 12 (CNA) Chinese President Xi Jinping's (習近平) elevation to China's most powerful leader in decades may make unifying Taiwan with China a more imperative goal, but given the scrapped term limits, he may feel less immediate time pressure to achieve that, an expert said recently.

China's National People's Congress voted nearly unanimously Sunday to end a two-term limit on the country's presidency, paving the way for Xi, whose second term ends in 2023, to remain in office indefinitely, as Mao Zedong (毛澤東) did a generation ago.

In an interview with CNA, Jacques deLisle, director of the Asia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a U.S. think tank, said he does not think the recent developments will change China's Taiwan policy to any great extent.

A tougher line Xi has adopted against Taiwan since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office predates the Communist Party of China's (CPC's) 19th National Congress in October 2017 and Xi's political dominance, particularly on issues like Taiwan, was clear before the recent proposals to end term limits, deLisle said.

He noted, however, that the recent development matters to Taiwan "in one limited but significant sense -- A more clearly powerful Xi, looking to a long tenure as China's top leader, may have an even more grand sense of his own role."

In terms of territorial integrity, Xi has asserted that it is essential to build China into a "great power," including bringing Taiwan under China's control, deLisle said. Xi's ongoing elevation "may make this type of goal more of an imperative for him," he added.

But deLisle added that there may be some cold comfort for Taiwan. "If Xi plans to be in office for, say, 20 years, there is less immediate time pressure for him to achieve a 'win' on the unification issue," he said.

Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S. at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said that Xi's new leader-for-life status, in itself, "does not require a major re-think of U.S.-China policy."

The U.S. must be careful "not to overreact to a development which, while dramatic, is only an incremental rather than a transformative change," he said.

The U.S. should also be alert to ways in which Xi's elevation reflects China's "fragility, not its strengths," and use China's rejection of democracy, freedom, and rule of law to highlight the importance of liberal institutions worldwide and within the U.S., he added.

As for the implications for Taiwan, Daly said that this is not a positive development for Taiwan, but "again, it's important not to overreact."

The U.S. and Taiwan should increase their contacts, especially between universities and think tanks, to share and compare their analyses of recent developments in China, he said.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Shih Hsiu-chuan)

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