Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was not kidding when he pledged in a speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress last month to quash pro-independence forces in Taiwan and realize China’s ultimate dream of unification.
In the past, China focused its “united front” tactics on Taiwanese businesspeople, many of whom have become Beijing’s mouthpieces, with some acquiring Taiwanese media outlets to spread their pro-China ideas.
This approach had been successful to the extent that some believe it is the main reason why the Democratic Progressive Party has been reluctant to implement an absentee voting system in Taiwan, amid concern that the votes of China-based Taiwanese could be manipulated by Beijing.
From China-based Taiwanese to its ambitious economic One Belt, One Road initiative, Beijing must have realized by now that money is perhaps its most powerful weapon of all.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that China has decided to use money to disarm its most fearful enemy in its plan to annex Taiwan: young Taiwanese.
Taiwanese youth have become the most vocal and adamant champions of freedom and independence in the nation. They constitute the group that has become the fiercest opponent of any attempt by Beijing to instill its ideologies or tighten control over places it deems as being part of the “whole of China.”
In an attempt to woo this group, the Chinese ministries of finance and education on Oct. 13 announced that they were offering annual state scholarships of 4,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan (US$603 to US$4,522) to Taiwanese students.
However, the stipends come with strings attached.
Under the “Regulations Governing Scholarship for Taiwanese Students,” only Taiwanese students who acknowledge the “one China” principle and support unification are eligible to apply.
Recipients who are caught making statements or taking actions that undermine the “one China” principle would be stripped of their scholarships, according to the regulations.
It might be an unusual prerequisite for a scholarship, but not in the context of Beijing’s “united front” tactics. China has always sought to isolate Taiwan and deny its sovereignty, moving to exclude the nation from UN meetings and international sports events, or having Taiwan listed as “a province of China” on any overseas Web sites.
The question is can young Taiwanese be bought?
Taiwan’s economy has been recovering, but this has been overshadowed by persistently low salary levels, disproportionately high housing prices and rising commodity prices.
Most households are left with little disposable income, forcing many young people to apply for loans to finish their education, or seek employment abroad after graduation in pursuit of a better life.
Against this backdrop, China’s state scholarship might look appealing, especially if one considers the possibility of landing a job in the second-largest economy in the world after graduation.
That being said, it is too early to be pessimistic.
Some might use the term “ignorant” to describe the group of young people who protested in 2014 against a proposed cross-strait service trade agreement — a high-profile demonstration that came to be known as the Sunflower movement — given that Taiwan has been marginalized in a world dominated by free-trade agreements because of Chinese obstructionism.
However, the other side of the coin spells “courageous,” because the movement’s participants recognized that there was something more important than short-term economic gains and were willing to protect it.
That kind of spirit does not go away easily.
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