On Friday, prompted by People First Party Chairman James Soong’s (宋楚瑜) statement that he had been invited to attend a military parade in Beijing on Sept. 3 to mark the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said that China would not interfere in Taiwan’s elections. This should put an end to Soong’s statements in the media that he has been invited to attend the event. This development also indicates how much more flexible the United Front Work Department’s Taiwan strategy has become.
First, it should be made clear that the ultimate goal of all China’s leaders has been to annex Taiwan and “unify” China. From the war of words across the Taiwan Strait to China’s promulgation of the “Anti-Secession” Law in 2005, China has clearly indicated that unification would be carried out by peaceful or military means, and earlier this year it promulgated the National Security Law, which unilaterally places Taiwan at the same level as Hong Kong and Macau and stipulates that Taiwan has a shared duty to protect national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
When meeting with Zhang for the first time in May, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) said that the law was “very inappropriate,” and although the council issued a press release saying that “our government once again states its displeasure” with the fact that China’s National People’s Conference voted to pass the law, the council still arranged a second meeting between Hsia and Zhang scheduled for next month or October, this time in China. China is holding a knife to Taiwan’s throat, but officials in President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration think they have made the appropriate arrangements and are proceeding cautiously. They are convinced that Beijing plans to intervene in next year’s elections, only this time they judge it will do it in ways that are more “in step with the times.”
Second, why is China’s behavior so inconsistent, and why is it now opposing Soong’s attendance at the Sept. 3 parade? To be blunt, when Soong met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) last year, he responded to Xi’s “four noes” with his own “four understandings.” Soong has now told reporters that if he has the chance to meet with Chinese leaders again, he “will find the opportune time to once again speak up for Taiwan.”
The reason for the sudden retraction of Soong’s invitation could well be that China cannot be sure what Soong plans to say.
The same concern is probably the reason why talk about the two sides exchanging liaison offices has quietened down. This is of course the result of the Chinese assessment that if Taiwan sets up a liaison office in Beijing, the Chinese public would not find that particularly strange.
However, if Beijing sets up a liaison office in Taiwan, and if protests ensue, would that not imply that Taiwan and China are two separate countries? It is, of course, important that China’s Ministry of Commerce in June set up a Taipei office for the Association of Economy and Trade Across the Taiwan Straits. With that, China has now achieved what it wants and feels it unnecessary to risk this greater achievement by insisting on the less important official liaison office.
Finally, the question is if the winner in next year’s presidential election is set to serve until 2020 or win reelection and remain in office until 2024. Compare this to Xi, whose first term in office expires in 2017, and, judging from precedent, will be extended until 2022. Xi has time to deal with Taiwan, but for Taiwan, who wins the presidential election will have a direct bearing on Taiwan’s future.
Chen Wei-chung is a former group leader at the National Security Bureau.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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