On June 8, the Chinese State Council Information Office held a news conference in Beijing to announce the Hainan free-trade port master plan, which aims to turn Hainan into a model center of global free trade.
It is no coincidence that just as Beijing is destroying Hong Kong by imposing national security legislation on the former British colony, it is hailing Hainan as an alternative to fill the void.
At the news conference, officials said that the Hainan free-trade port and Hong Kong are within different geographic locations and have different core industries.
The council said that the two areas would complement, rather than compete with, each other, stressing that the free-trade port would not affect Hong Kong.
Beijing unveiled its latest megaproject with much fanfare, yet only several years ago it announced the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area project.
This begs the question: Why does it need another free-trade area in the region? The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) thinking is notoriously difficult to penetrate, and the Hainan free-trade port is no exception: This is clearly an elaborate deceit, designed to hide China’s malicious intent toward Taiwan.
A core plank of the CCP’s Taiwan policy for many years has been to achieve unification through economic means. Beijing is convinced that by leveraging the superior size and strength of China’s economy it can use free-market principles to create a vast suction effect and marginalize Taiwan’s smaller economy.
The weakening of Taiwan’s economy is the foundation of the CCP’s strategy to bring the nation into the arms of the “motherland.” The CCP has never wavered from this policy.
In 2008, then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) introduced a policy for Taiwan’s economic integration with China.
However, the centripetal force pulling Taiwan’s economy toward China was so powerful that four years after the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) came into effect, Taiwan’s economy became depressed to the point that starting salaries fell to NT$22,000 per month.
When the Ma administration tried to force a cross-strait service trade pact through the legislature in 2014, the move triggered the Sunflower movement, which derailed the full integration of Taiwan and China’s economies at the 11th hour.
In response to the 2016 presidential and legislative elections, which gave the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the presidency and a legislative majority, Beijing implemented a number of polices to punish the nation.
This included placing restrictions on Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, resulting in more than 4 million fewer visitors, and marked the beginning of a policy shift in Beijing toward damaging Taiwan’s economy.
Taiwan’s tourism industry and the civilian economy bore the brunt of China’s economic sanctions. President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration was caught off guard and this led to the surprise rise of former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
Han’s campaign for mayor was centered on slogans advocating economic integration with China, which, for a while, duped many Taiwanese.
The economic slump resulted in a significant setback for the DPP during the November 2018 local elections, and Beijing’s policy of unification through economic means once again appeared to bearing fruit.
However, the CCP became overconfident and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) prematurely advocated a version of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula for Taiwan.
This caused Han fans to fall out of their love with him when he ran for president, and Tsai won a landslide victory and a second legislative majority in the Jan. 11 presidential and legislative elections.
After two defeats, has Beijing given up on its policies of unification through economic means and impoverishing Taiwan? The answer is no. As long as the ECFA remains, the problem grows.
On May 15, Beijing unveiled a package of 11 new incentives to entice Taiwanese businesses and talent to China, building upon 31 measures introduced ahead of Taiwan’s 2018 elections.
The CCP’s promotion of the Hainan free-trade port is another trap designed to suck capital from Taiwan to China. The size of Hainan’s economy combined with a climate similar to Taiwan’s, in addition to other advantages, makes it an attractive choice for Taiwanese investors and businesses.
The Tsai administration must quickly formulate countermeasures, otherwise there is a danger that Taiwan could experience a second wave of “Han-sanity.”
This is a threat that the government must take seriously.
Huang Tien-lin is a former advisory member of the National Security Council and a national policy adviser to the president.
Translated by Edward Jones
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