China’s new approach on Taiwan

By Hong Chi-chang 洪奇昌  / 

Sat, Feb 10, 2018 - Page 8

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) annual meeting on Taiwan affairs closed on Friday last week. At the meeting, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang (汪洋), incoming chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), stressed that a new era required a new approach to Taiwan affairs.

“We should remain true to our original aspiration, keep our mission firmly in mind, and fully implement the CCP Central Committee’s decisions and plans [for Taiwan affairs] in a spirit of ‘time and tide wait for no man; seize the day, seize the hour,’” Wang said.

Does this mean that Beijing will make a new move after the new officials in charge of Taiwan affairs take over at the joint meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the CPPCC’s National Committee scheduled for next month?

Wang quoted Mao Zedong (毛澤東), who in 1963 said: “Ten thousand years are too long. Seize the day, seize the hour.”

At the time, the Soviet Union and China were hostile to each other, and the former withdrew many Russian experts sent to assist the Chinese.

Later generations often interpret Mao’s remarks as meaning that “regardless of how great the difficulties may be, they can be overcome, and we would keep doing it for 10,000 years, but time and tide wait for no man, so we must seize the time to accelerate the pace of development.”

It seems that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is aspiring to compare himself with Mao, vowing to create a new atmosphere and take new actions in the new era.

Does the statement “time and tide wait for no man; seize the day, seize the hour” imply that Beijing plans to bring about cross-strait unification by the deadline for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)? If peaceful unification has not been achieved by then, will annexation by force become a possibility?

This debate did not end, and early last month, China Review News Agency president Guo Weifeng (郭偉峰) published an article saying that peaceful unification is still the best option, but a timetable should be added.

Zhou Zhihuai (周志懷), former director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Taiwan Studies, also said during a conference in October last year that the debate over peaceful or non-peaceful unification was unlikely to cease in China anytime soon since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regained power in 2016.

On Jan. 23, China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Vice President Sun Yafu (孫亞夫) published an article, titled “New comprehension of the guidelines for upholding ‘peaceful unification; one country, two systems’ in the new era,” setting the tone and demanding that Taiwan affairs be subordinated to and serve the strategic arrangements for China’s socialist modernization. With that, the debate over unification or a unification timetable has temporarily ceased.

Sun’s article once again clarified doubts on unification by force, because unification should not be allowed to delay Beijing’s “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” but it also highlighted the strategic priority of that rejuvenation over cross-strait unification.

Sun’s remarks were in line with those of Jin Canrong (金燦榮), associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, who said in June last year that Xi had told China’s Taiwan Affairs Office not to link the timetable for rejuvenation to that of unification.

How, then, will China carry out its Taiwan policy while trying to “seize the day, seize the hour”?

Apart from firm opposition to and deterrence of Taiwanese independence, China can be expected to focus more on its unilateral initiatives when pushing for unification.

The policies unveiled in Wang’s speech implies that China will actively expand cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation, deepen integration of cross-strait economic and social development, giving Taiwanese studying, starting businesses, working and living in China the same treatment as the Chinese, and encourage people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to promote Chinese culture and their “spiritual affinity.” Specifically, Beijing will stop following trends and start being pro-active.

Plainly put, such unilateral initiatives indicate that China will do whatever it wants without negotiating with Taiwan. This has been Beijing’s approach since the DPP regained power and it ended cross-strait contacts.

From the issuing of the Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents in the form of an identification card to the opening of the M503 flight route last month, Beijing has repeatedly side-stepped the Taiwanese government and aimed itself directly at Taiwanese society.

Perhaps Beijing believes that its national strength and economic interests will allow it to force the Taiwanese government to compromise for the sake of the Taiwanese people’s welfare. However, the current situation implies that the two governments are like two trucks running straight at each other in a game of chicken, and there is no incentive for either to flinch. Chinese officials always make a point of understanding the spirit of their leaders’ speeches, but the effectiveness of implementation is another story.

Maybe Beijing should think twice. Although unilateral integration and active intervention and initiatives may accelerate some measures favorable to Taiwanese, the question is if that will lead to “spiritual affinity” between the two sides.

Hong Chi-chang is a former chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation.

Translated by Eddy Chang