During a visit to Kinmen County to meet Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kinmen County Commissioner Yang Cheng-wu (楊鎮浯) on June 21, Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chen Ming-tong (陳明通) indicated that cross-strait relations are a serious strategic issue.
With regard to the “small four links,” a proposal made by the Chinese government at the Straits Forum in Beijing last month to which Yang responded positively, Chen said that three of the four links — electricity, natural gas and bridges — are neither necessary nor urgent at this time, while the water link — with Kinmen importing water from China’s Fujian Province through an undersea pipe to stabilize the islands’ fragile water supply — was implemented last year.
Cross-strait affairs fall under the central government’s authority and are not a simple matter for a local government. The commissioner’s response to the Chinese proposal not only indicates a new round of political games between the central and local governments, but also has the potential effect of localizing cross-strait ties.
On the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” on Jan. 2, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) introduced and promoted his “five points,” stressing that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait “should promote connectivity wherever necessary.”
Apart from the concept of the “greater four links” — “trade and economic cooperation, infrastructure, energy and resource development, and sharing industrial standards” — Xi also said that China would first realize the “small four links” to connect coastal areas in China’s Fujian Province with Kinmen and Lienchiang County, or Matsu. Xi’s proposed policies would address the needs of Kinmen residents and affect the region’s development.
China’s Taiwan policy emphasizes economic and social integration, while its “one generation, one stratum” strategy — aimed at the younger generation and ordinary Taiwanese — has effectively responded to needs.
Particular attention should be paid to the “one country, two systems formula for Kinmen and Matsu” suggested by Chinese academics as a proposed trial version for China’s version of the “one country, two systems” framework targeting Taiwan.
If demands for the “four small links” are to be met, administrative consistency between central and local governments in cross-strait affairs would certainly be impaired due to different priorities in policy implementation: The central government, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), stresses the importance of upholding national sovereignty and political autonomy, while local governments administered by the KMT focus on economic interests and people’s livelihoods.
However, the lack of integration in cross-strait policies among the KMT-controlled local governments has made it difficult for the party to exert pressure upon the central government, despite holding a majority of local administrations.
Organizers of the Straits Forum said that more than 10,000 Taiwanese — or 40 percent of participants — attended, with about half of them young people.
However, among the 15 local governments led by the KMT, only the commissioners of the three outlying counties — Kinmen, Lienchiang and Penghu — attended, while the other 12 KMT-run local governments refrained after the DPP administration strongly advised against participation.
The DPP’s disapproval meant there was no collective action by the KMT-controlled local governments and the party failed to obtain power of discourse or influence cross-strait policymaking.
The Kinmen County Government’s proposal to update the “small three links” to “small four links” did not garner much support among the KMT and its legislative caucus, and the bid was scrapped by the central government.
Although the DPP administration has suggested ways that Taiwan could take the initiative in a bid to facilitate economic development and improve public welfare on outlying islands, it is apparent that the goals of the two main parties are poles apart: The DPP attaches greater importance to political autonomy, while the KMT’s local governments emphasize economic and social development.
The issues that Kinmen and Lienchiang face are similar to problems in the Crimean Peninsula.
Examining the two counties’ relationship with China in terms of geopolitics and geoeconomics shows that a shared feeling of living in a common society would take shape if connections go beyond water supplies to the implementation of the “small four links” and even the “greater four links.”
If the “one country, two systems formula for Kinmen and Lienchiang” and “the cross-strait experimental area for peace” proposals are put in place, with the two outlying counties as a strategic buffer zone, they would certainly contribute to the establishment of much closer social ties and dependent economic relationships between China and Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu, eventually creating political decentralization.
Radical Taiwanese independence advocates have called for a referendum on independence and established the Sovereign State for Formosa and Pescadores Party, which — given their exclusion of Kinmen and Matsu from their political platform — would lead to greater dissociation.
An amendment to the Referendum Act (公投法) decoupled referendums from national elections to avoid political parties manipulating sensitive topics.
However, there could still be a local referendum on the “small four links.” If that happened, it might change the cross-strait relationship and accelerate integration with China, while creating conflict between the central and local governments once cross-strait relations become “local affairs.”
Kinmen’s and Lienchiang’s close economic and social ties with China would boost decentralization and move the islands’ political inclination away from Taiwan proper, much like how the Crimean Peninsula held an independence referendum to leave Ukraine and then applied to be part of the Russian Federation.
The DPP has adopted countermeasures against China’s promotion of Xi’s “five points” and the proposal to explore a Taiwanese version of the “one country, two systems” framework. The countermeasures are sure to create a chilling effect in the short term, but “frowning upon” city mayors and county commissioners, or forbidding political parties from going to China to participate in democratic negotiations — in the long term — is not an effective strategic approach to face China’s policy of integrating Taiwan.
For the Chinese government, economy and trade should serve sovereignty. Yet, China’s logic of economic policies being guided by politics might pose a new challenge to political games between Taipei and local governments.
The nation’s consistency in cross-strait policies is put at risk by the majority of local governments being controlled by the opposition party, different national identities constructed by political parties, and divergent demarcation of national interests.
Liu Chin-tsai is an assistant professor in Fo Guang University’s department of public affairs.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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