As the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) China Affairs Committee takes shape, now is a good time to start thinking about how to best engage China.
Two principles stand above all others in how Taiwanese should interact with their giant neighbor: First, engagement is unavoidable, though the scope, breadth and nature of such interactions should continue to be determined by the Taiwanese side; and second, such engagement should be conducted under the premise that the entire enterprise is part of a large united front campaign orchestrated by Beijing.
Consequently, the Taiwanese side must never lose sight of the dangers that stem from interacting with China, and should therefore arm themselves with sufficient intelligence about their interlocutors before making contact with them. They should also be ready to launch their own counter-propaganda campaign to defuse the primary message that Beijing wants to drill into people’s minds, and that is the “historical inevitability” of “reunification.” The worst that the DPP, or any other Taiwanese organization, for that matter, can do is walk in unprepared and assume that the Chinese side is well-intentioned. It is not.
While relations across the Taiwan Strait have in many respects “improved” since Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) became president in 2008, Beijing remains aware that economics alone are insufficient to persuade a democracy of 23 million people to accept being absorbed by a widely different political system. It also knows that military deterrence can only be a last resort. As a result, its united front strategy continued to work alongside the trade pacts, cultural exchanges and increasingly regular meetings of semi-official officials.
There were indications, starting in early 2010, that Beijing had decided to intensify its psychological warfare efforts against Taiwan. Perhaps this came from the realization that Taiwanese were self-aware enough to be capable of conducting business with China without necessarily agreeing that they were not who they were. In other words, increasing cross-strait trade and exchanges would not, of their own, translate into support for unification. Mercantilism having failed, China had to up the ante.
Since then, entities such as the General Staff Department’s (GSD) Second Department — the intelligence department — and local political departments, such as Nanjing Military Region’s General Political Department’s 311 Base in Fuzhou City, have played a growing role in cross-strait affairs.
Whenever former officials like former Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and others cavort with their Chinese counterparts at events commemorating cross-strait dialogue, people like China Council for the Promotion of Cultural Development (中華文化發展促進會) vice president Xin Qi (辛旗) are not far in the background. What some people do not seem to know is that Xin’s organization, like many others, is associated with the Second Department of the GSD. In other words, Chinese intelligence officers, not culture enthusiasts, run the entire show.
The same applies when DPP members like former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) embark on visits to China, endeavors that offer immense propaganda opportunities for Beijing. By most accounts, Hsieh’s most recent visit, late last year, was a coup for China, which pretty much took control over his itinerary and who he was able to meet. Hsieh undoubtedly meant well, but he was duped and his reputation suffered as a result. It is one thing for DPP members to take the first steps in interacting with Chinese officials, but the stakes are much too high for them to act like amateurs. Everything they do, whoever they meet, must be carefully analyzed in advance and the costs of doing so much be weighed against the benefits.
The main lesson is that Taiwanese must never lose control of the agenda when dealing with China. Interacting with Chinese officials naively for the sake of showing that the DPP, too, can talk with the Chinese side, is to fall into the propaganda trap set by Beijing.