For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the united-front strategy is a matter of combining all possible strengths and playing on its opponent’s weaknesses. It was used to emancipate the working class, and now it is being used to annex Taiwan. Because China believes these to be sacred tasks, it set up the United Front Work Department. For Taiwan, the strategy is a threat that aims for cooptation and division. The great difference between how the two sides understand this concept means that exchanges are filled with suspicion and attempts to outsmart each other.
After the re-establishment of Beijing-Washington diplomatic relations, a self-satisfied China issued an “Open Letter to Taiwanese Compatriots” in which it pinned its hopes for unification on the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Taiwanese, thus singling out the authoritarian government and the people of Taiwan. The answer from then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) was “three noes”— no contacts, no talks, no compromise.
Following a major change in KMT policy in 1986, Mainlander veterans were allowed to return home and cross-strait trade was opened up, giving China its first chance to leverage business interests as a way to control Taiwanese politics.
To handle cross-strait contacts, Taipei established the Straits Exchange Foundation, while Beijing set up the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait. Within a few years, however, contacts between the two organizations were discontinued and Taiwan implemented its “no haste, be patient” policy while China started to lob missiles toward Taiwan in military exercises.
After the KMT lost its hold on power, the united front approach changed and Beijing pinned its hopes on the Taiwanese alone, leaving the KMT out of its slogans. It also tried to establish contact with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In 2001, then-Chinese vice premier Qian Qichen (錢其琛) said Beijing was willing to establish contacts with Taiwanese independence activists if they gave up their separatist ways. In 2002, he welcomed DPP members to visit China “in an appropriate status.”
In 2004, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) believed passage of Beijing’s “Anti-Secession” Law placed Taiwan in a dangerous military situation. He mobilized the public to use as a bargaining chip and tried to clarify his stance to China.
He organized a meeting with People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), where he reiterated his adherence to his four noes pledge: That so long as Beijing had no intention of using military force against Taiwan, he would “not declare Taiwan independence, change the national title, push for the inclusion of the “state-to-state” model of cross-strait relations in the Constitution, or promote a referendum on independence or unification.He then agreed to send Soong to Beijing on a bridge-building visit.
As a result of Chinese pressure and threats, the meeting was followed by a competition between then-KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), Soong and Chen over who would visit China first. After a strong backlash within the DPP, Chen’s contacts with Beijing came to naught.
Lien won the race and went to Beijing to declare that the KMT would work with the CCP to suppress Taiwanese independence. The KMT then announced its participation in a KMT-CCP forum that would accomplish the things the DPP had not. The KMT’s attitude was that the CCP threat was located far away on the distant shore across the Taiwan Strait, while the threat from the DPP was staring it right in the face.