The Sunflower movement has unexpectedly interrupted China’s management of Taiwan’s affairs. Still, perhaps the movement has offered Beijing a good opportunity to win the support of Taiwanese.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) has repeatedly modified its response to the student movement in subtle ways
On March 26, about a week after students occupied the legislative chamber on March 18, TAO spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) expressed his disagreement with the move, saying bluntly that “nobody wants to see interference with the progress of peaceful cross-strait development and economic cooperation.”
Clearly, this progress refers not only to economic cooperation, but also to peaceful development. In the short run, economic progress includes the plan to sign a cross-strait agreement on trade in goods in the wake of the signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement last year.
In the long run, it means the overall economic integration between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Undoubtedly, neither the service trade pact nor the agreement on trade in goods is purely a matter of economic cooperation, because the ultimate goal for both parties is to push forward cross-strait peaceful development. The medium-term goal is to launch political negotiations between Taiwan and China.
As Taipei continues to downplay Beijing’s call for political talks, Chinese authorities hope to realize economic integration between the two sides. In other words Beijing intends to use business to influence politics.
In terms of economic integration, after the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in 2010, the most important task is the signing of the agreement on trade in services and goods. Beijing is having problems hiding its disappointment as economic integration is frustrated by the student movement.
After the government accepted the student movement’s demands that a law regulating the oversight of cross-strait agreements be passed before the agreement is reviewed, China slightly adjusted its attitude.
At the annual Boao Forum for Asia, TAO Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said that the student movement had given him an insight, namely that China must gain an understanding of every aspect of the situation in Taiwan from now on, especially the lay of the land among ordinary people, as well as sentiment in small and medium-sized enterprises.
Beijing has finally come to realize that although it relies heavily on both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwanese business circles, including Taiwanese businesspeople investing in China, in the push for economic integration and peaceful cross-strait development, these two forces may no longer be sufficient to ensure the continued progress of peaceful cross-strait development.
Zhang, who expressed a hope that he would be able to visit Taiwan soon, perhaps during the first half of this year, even said in an amicable tone that he wished to have a direct dialogue with the student protesters.
His remarks clearly showed Beijing’s flexibility and confidence about handling the Taiwan issue. It also showed that Beijing is adding two important aspects to its future strategy for handling Taiwan.
First, China will strive to gain the support of Taiwan’s grassroots and small and medium enterprises.
With the ECFA and the service trade agreement, China used the same approach as with Hong Kong by allowing Taiwan to profit more from the agreements while giving the nation generous gifts to boost cross-strait economic ties.