In economics, Beijing sought to advance cross-strait integration last year with a cross-strait service trade agreement. From Beijing’s perspective, this agreement is intended also to perform vital political and united front functions in Taiwan. As shown by the experience of Hong Kong, the agreement will provide legal cover for China’s agents to live and work throughout Taiwan. Through Chinese enterprises and shops, China’s operatives would continue to build up that country’s resources, and strengthen its capability to influence and shape Taiwan’s political process and policy efforts toward peaceful unification without firing a shot.
With the seven-in-one elections to be held in November this year and the presidential and legislative elections in 2016, many KMT leaders — and Beijing — are apprehensive that voters could reject KMT candidates in November and vote the KMT government out of office in 2016. Beijing has much at stake and is looking for ways to cope with a weakened Ma administration.
Most significantly, Beijing is attempting to hand-pick a candidate to run for the mayor’s office in Taipei. Sean Lien (連勝文) has formidable credentials: He seems quite popular in Taipei and enjoys the support of the pro-China media, leading the polls even before officially having announced his candidacy. Lien comes from a wealthy and well-connected family and is the son of former vice president and former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), who, as Beijing’s principal interlocutor in Taiwan, enjoys Beijing’s confidence and has met several times with Hu and Xi. Moreover, Xi has also met Sean Lien and appears to be fond of him, joking about his height during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. As mayor of Taiwan’s capital, Lien would provide Beijing not just a direct link to the KMT leadership, but also a strategic power base to counterbalance Ma and post-Ma leaders, and to affect Taiwan’s cross-strait policy as well. Thus this is a race for more than the mayoralty of Taipei.
To facilitate Lien’s electoral victory, Beijing tries also to manipulate the selection of the mayoral candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the broader opposition camp. Beijing and pro-China media appear to have endorsed Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a well-known physician and an independent candidate who leads most opinion polls, but has been accused of soliciting Beijing’s support during trips to China and of being Beijing’s “Manchurian candidate” (“Empowering women in politics,” Dec. 16, 2013, page 8).
At the same time, Beijing has cultivated links with the higher echelons of the DPP. Former premier and DPP chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) was the most prominent DPP figure to visit China last year and Beijing has reportedly also sought a visit from former DPP chairperson and 2012 presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
To exert greater influence over the DPP, Beijing also seeks to influence the election of its party chairman in May.
It is no secret that Ma anxiously seeks to attend the APEC summit in Beijing in October and facilitate a historic meeting with Xi, hoping to extricate himself from deep political woes at home and salvage his presidency. Although cross-strait ties have improved dramatically, most Taiwan analysts think the trip is unlikely, as the two sides are still far apart on sovereignty and other key political issues.