Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) was the model of professionalism during his visit to Taiwan last week. With his smiles, toasts, gifts and handshakes, he presented to Taiwan — and for those who were watching elsewhere — the facade that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) technocrats have long cultivated.
As many China watchers have observed, CCP cadres are increasingly charismatic and professional, driven less by doctrine and more by political calculation. Part of this strategy has been to reassure the region and the world about China’s intentions as it grows in power and influence — and to their credit, Beijing’s diplomats have been extremely successful in this regard.
Aware that its charm offensive is bearing fruit, Beijing has now turned it on Taiwan, first dispatching ARATS Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) and then Chen, both of whom presented a very “human” side of the CPP, tears and all. The only difference this time around, however, is that despite its rational approach to politics, the CCP remains religiously true to doctrine on the issue of Taiwan, which remains of fundamental interest to Beijing and is paramount to the legitimacy of the CCP.
Understanding this zeal is crucial, as it allows us to see past the illusion of warm relations between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the CCP. For all the wining and dining, agreements and accolades, Beijing sees the KMT as nothing more than a means to an end: an instrument that can be used as long as it makes the ultimate objective of unification possible. Otherwise, the KMT is dispensable should it get in China’s way.
Beijing’s ability to hide its true intentions and to beguile the KMT should not be underestimated. Like a snake charmer, the CCP appears to have had the KMT government in its thrall since day one. Outmatched by the CCP, the bungling administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) may, to be fair, have failed to comprehend how divisive and disruptive Chen’s visit would be. But Beijing didn’t. It knew full well what would happen and, relying on Niccolo Machiavelli’s old military trick, used the KMT to drive a wedge within the Taiwanese polity.
The plan worked to perfection, with Taiwanese turning against Taiwanese in recrimination. A greater pan-green versus pan-blue divide has emerged, with other factions seeking to distance themselves from the main parties, while the gap between the government and the governed, the police and the policed, has widened. Unable to present a united front, Taiwan has been weakened.
The second leg of China’s plan played out not in Asia, but in the US, with the election of Senator Barack Obama. While the president-elect has yet to prove his mettle, already there is widespread concern that he will not be as good a friend to Taiwan as other presidents have been. Whether or not this is true, it is likely that Beijing will reach that conclusion and do everything it can — through charm, again — to ensure that Obama stays on its side.
Unless the Obama administration clearly states that the US remains committed to defending Taiwan, Beijing could reach the conclusion that the time is ripe for a takeover, especially with Taiwan disunited, disorganized and dispirited.