The Liberty Times Editorial: Seeing through China’s strategy

Mon, Jun 20, 2011 - Page 8

It recently came to light that a retired general from Taiwan’s armed forces said during a visit to China that there should no longer be any need to talk of a Nationalist army and a Communist army, because “we are all Chinese armies.” His comment stirred up a hornet’s nest in Taiwan and has been denounced by supporters of the pan-blue and pan-green camps alike, while ordinary people resent the fact that retirees whose pensions are paid out of our taxes should go around talking like traitors.

From China’s point of view, no matter what happens next, the general’s pronouncement was a mark of success for its united-front strategy aimed at eventual unification. For Taiwan, on the other hand, it comes as yet another blow to the morale of its armed forces and the public at large. The incident also shows that there are some people who are quite aware that China’s every move is aimed at unification, yet still gather like moths around a candle, only to get burned when they fly too close.

The odd thing is that, while China makes no secret of its united-front strategy, there are those in Taiwan who are happy to play along and who are quite proud of being “unified.”

These people find succor in the China-friendly policies of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Hardly a day goes by without Beijing doing something to promote unification, and it already has a foot in Taiwan’s door. China has finally got the opportunity it has long craved to work its way into Taiwan and into Taiwanese homes and hearts.

The third annual Strait Forum opened in Xiamen in China’s Fujian Province on June 4. Chinese media report that this year’s forum was the biggest so far, with more than 8,000 people taking part, about 6,000 of whom are from Taiwan. Within China’s united front plans, these forums are defined as civic, grassroots and broad-based events.

The purpose of the forums is obviously to put into practice the call put out by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) to find ways of winning over people from central and southern Taiwan.

Central and southern Taiwan are the strongholds of Taiwan-centric thinking and Beijing could not make much headway in the region with its old united-front tactics. It started using religion to try to win friends there and more recently it has been enticing people with the prospect of material gain, for instance by agreeing to buy farm produce.

This strategy focuses on the needs and wants of people at the grassroots. Although the promises China makes are not always fulfilled, the people who are the targets of these united-front tactics often make the mistake of thinking that they stand to gain much and lose nothing. They naively go to China, taking their friends along with them, and end up swallowing the “one China” poison pill wrapped up in the illusion of the so-called “1992 consensus.”

While the Strait Forums are aimed at the grassroots, the series of forums involving the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) are for the top leaders.

As to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and others in the Taiwan-centric pan-green camp, they too have their place in China’s united front strategy. As Hu said in 2005: “No matter who he is and which political party it is, and no matter what they said and did in the past, we’re willing to talk with them on questions of developing cross-strait relations and promoting peaceful unification as long as they recognize the “one China” principle and the ‘1992 consensus.’”

Indeed, a number of disaffected former DPP politicians have responded to China’s call to “repent and reform.” When visiting China, these people have been given a grand reception and are now counted among China’s “new friends.”

This is even truer of people in the business sector. Taiwan being a democracy, businesspeople here are free to support political parties and candidates. Now, for the sake of being able to invest in and trade with China, quite a lot of businesspeople have, voluntarily or otherwise, tailored their ways to meet China’s requirements by supporting only those parties and candidates that meet with China’s approval.

As a result, Taiwan-centric and pro-independence parties and candidates find themselves starved of election campaign resources, while the KMT, which had a great deal of money and property to begin with, gets the lion’s share of political donations. This imbalance is slanting the playing field ever more steeply in favor of the KMT and its pan-blue allies. If things go on like this, Taiwan’s hard-won democracy is going to crumble away, leaving it even more vulnerable to pressure from China.

Taiwanese had better be on their guard, because China’s all-out united-front strategy toward Taiwan is not someone else’s problem.

China learned a lesson from the results of national elections in Taiwan between 1996 and 2004. It learned that missile tests and verbal and military threats are not effective ways of influencing Taiwanese hearts and minds. Such tactics will only make Taiwanese dislike China.

So, while China has quietly increased the number of missiles it has pointed at Taiwan to more than 1,000, it hasn’t fired any of them since the missile tests it held in 1995 and 1996. Instead, China has gone on a smile offensive, giving the impression that peace prevails across the Taiwan Strait and concealing its plan to annex Taiwan.

China wants to give the impression that it is conceding benefits to Taiwan all over the place. For example, the real purpose of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement is to lock Taiwan’s economy into a monolithic Chinese market, but Beijing’s spin on the agreement is that it is making sacrifices for Taiwan’s benefit. The scary thing is that Ma, who is commander-in-chief of Taiwan’s armed forces, has complete trust in everything China promises.

Some people may have the attitude that if China wants to play its united-front tactics, then let it go ahead, because we can take advantage of the opportunity to make a lot of money. People who think that way take China for a fool, but in fact they are the real fall guys. They should open their eyes and look at what China is up to.

On the one hand, it is playing divide and conquer with Taiwan, while on the other it is tightening the noose around Taiwan in the international community. The pressure China put on the WHO to classify Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China” is just one example. Given its record, does anyone really think China is so stupid as to let Taiwanese make a load of money for nothing?

Ma recently told a student workshop that while China poses risks to Taiwan, it also offers opportunities, but in reality he sees only the opportunities, while turning a blind eye to the risks.

What Ma sees as an opportunity is in reality China’s big chance to ensnare Taiwan in its unification plans and move step by step toward its ultimate goal of annexation.

Translated by Julian Clegg