Taiwan a softer target for China

By Leung Man-to 梁文韜  / 

Sun, Jul 06, 2014 - Page 8

A series of recent events in Hong Kong has attracted much attention from Taiwanese. The occupation of the lobby of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on June 6 was seen by many as being modeled on the occupation of Taiwan’s legislative chamber from March 18 to April 10. While the two events may not seem to be closely related, they reflect a deep truth, which is that Taiwanese and Hong Kongers distrust China and resent the rich and powerful.

The cross-strait service trade agreement is a very important tool for China in its strategy of annexing Taiwan by using state capital to nibble away at Taiwan’s economy, gaining control of financial and other key businesses and manipulating elections. In Hong Kong, the plan to build two new towns in the northeastern New Territories is the first step toward formally amalgamating Hong Kong and Shenzhen, which is part of a blueprint for annihilating Hong Kong.

By using the service trade agreement, negotiated behind close doors, to throw Taiwan’s front door wide open, the rich and powerful on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are sure to build an even closer relationship consisting of nepotistic capitalism, in the same way as has happened in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the widening gap between rich and poor and the falling real incomes for middle and lower-class people will follow the pattern set after Hong Kong and China signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2003.

What Hong Kongers have seen in the planning process for the northeastern New Territories’ new development areas are backroom arrangements being made by government officials to benefit themselves and property dealers, while throwing farmers off their land. The great majority of the expropriated land would be provided for use by the rich and powerful from China and Hong Kong. What would arise in place of farmland would be yet more department stores for rich Chinese to do their shopping in, as well as a paradise for land speculation by Hong Kong’s wealthiest people.

As well as economic development, Hong Kong’s political development has struck an even more sensitive nerve among Taiwanese. In the past, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still felt that maintaining the formula of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong could serve as a model for China’s future rule over Taiwan, and that it could persuade the public that this was an acceptable way of uniting with China.

Over the past few years, however, China has changed its strategy regarding Taiwan. Now it seeks to use the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement to expedite its aim of making Taiwan’s economy over-reliant on China, so that it becomes a mere appendage, and then to annex Taiwan step by step, rather than first deciding how to annex Taiwan politically, and then talking about economic cooperation. To put it simply, the “one country, two systems” policy, which most Taiwanese have always rejected, is no longer China’s preferred arrangement for achieving its aim of unification.

On June 10, the Chinese government released a white paper on Hong Kong that formally dismantles the “two systems” part of the “one country, two systems” formula. The changes in China’s strategy make it easy to understand why it made such a high-profile move ahead of an unofficial referendum about how Hong Kong’s chief executive should be selected.

The white paper shows how the CCP hawks around Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) operate. By willfully downgrading Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which has the status of a constitution, and making it clear that China’s central government can intervene in Hong Kong’s business any time it sees fit, China’s leaders have abandoned the promise their predecessors made to the international community that Hong Kong would continue to enjoy a high degree of autonomy and that its chief executive would eventually be elected through genuine general elections. In view of these leaders’ unwillingness to give Hong Kongers sufficient political space, Hong Kongers will have to strongly resist the Beijing and Hong Kong governments and bravely secure their own futures.

As China tries to force Hong Kongers into submission, it sees Taiwan, whose present leaders are highly cooperative with China, as already being in the bag. In such circumstances, Taiwan will not give the CCP much to worry about while it is busy applying high-pressure policies to Hong Kong.

The reason for China’s confidence is, of course, that the main forces of political opposition in Taiwan are disintegrating.

Thinking Taiwan Foundation executive director Lin Chuan (林全) can be seen as representing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Central Standing Committee and Central Executive Committee member Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Lin visited China in January, and he has been followed by Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) and Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), who are both members of the DPP’s former New Tide faction.

The visits mark a major development for China’s united-front strategy in the political arena. The fact that opposition to the cross-strait service trade agreement and the planned free economic pilot zones has been launched by civic groups rather than Taiwan’s main opposition party is a sign of the way things are going.

Senior members of the New Tide faction have recently joined up with forces calling for some kind of greater “one China,” and DPP Legislator Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), who has decisive influence as the party’s caucus whip, proposed suspending the party’s so-called “Taiwan independence clause.” Some DPP politicians who have a lot of party members under their sway are in favor of putting Ker’s idea forward as a formal motion. These developments make it clear that the CCP already has a firm grip on the DPP, which is no longer dedicated to writing a Taiwan independence national constitution.

Under these conditions, the most important strategy for the CCP to work out in present circumstances is how to keep working on DPP politicians to turn them into puppets.

On the eve of last week’s visit to Taiwan by China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), China’s State Council willfully risked offending Taiwanese public opinion by saying that Taiwan’s future should be decided by everyone in China. This was clearly intended as a declaration that the next stage of China’s moves toward unification is now underway, and will be carried out alongside its overall strategy of “reaching into the island [Taiwan] and into people’s homes and hearts.”

Faced with such pressure from China, Taiwan’s civic forces must link up more tightly so as to seize back their prospects for a future in which Taiwan is not dominated by an outside force.

Leung Man-to is a professor of political science at National Cheng Kung University.

Translated by Julian Clegg