Despite a freeze in cross-strait relations since the inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in May last year, Beijing’s “united front” tactics have continued unabated, but with the focus shifting to ordinary Taiwanese and local non-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials.
After the Sunflower movement of 2014, China has revisited its strategy, realizing that its over-reliance on cultivating Taiwanese politicians and businesspeople had done little to win the hearts and minds of the public.
Beijing’s shifting of gears is marked by its promotion of policies it has dubbed the “three middles and the youth” (三中一青) — residents of central and southern Taiwan, middle and low-income families, small and medium-sized enterprises, and young people — and “one generation and one stratum” (一代一線) — the young generation and the grassroots stratum — as well as its exclusion of DPP local government heads.
Official cross-strait interactions were frequent during former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, which turned a blind eye to China’s tactics, a point dramatically underscored by high-profile united-front events, such as the many cross-strait forums.
At the same time, politicians and business figures traveled to and fro across the Strait, with the Ma administration’s pro-China stance facilitating their passage.
However, cross-strait exchanges hit a bump in 2014, when a backlash against the proposed cross-strait service trade agreement triggered the Sunflower movement and shocked Beijing from its complacency, forcing it to rethink its policy.
After re-evaluating its Taiwan policy, the Chinese Communist Party in the same year unveiled the “three middles and the youth” strategy, with its united-front operations targeting ordinary Taiwanese and young people.
Officials working at China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) said that Beijing this year revised its “three middles and the youth” policy, calling it the “one generation and one stratum” policy.
The change signaled a renewed emphasis on broadening its conceptual definition of ordinary Taiwanese and forming local connections, the officials said, adding that the ultimate goal was to “dispel misconceptions about China held by ordinary Taiwanese.”
Estimates place Taiwanese visits to China last year at about 5.73 million as Beijing stepped up its exchange programs, emphasizing personal participation, interaction and experience.
China has made an extra effort to attract Taiwanese teenagers with summer camps and lowered the minimum test score standards for Taiwanese high-school students to apply for Chinese colleges.
These actions could be read as the incentivizing measures of united-front operations.
The TAO has opened 53 youth start-up bases and showcase locations, while allowing holders of Beijing-issued “Taiwan compatriot travel document” to purchase airline and train tickets online.
In addition, a variety of subsidies are offered to Taiwanese for purposes as diverse as social science research and housing.
Taken together, the measures constitute an integrated and holistic approach to united-front operations, incorporating education, internship, job creation, start-ups and other things whose appeal is not limited to political and economic leaders.
China has also adopted a “divide and conquer” strategy in dealing with politicians at the municipal and county levels.
Beijing cultivates friendly relationships with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) city mayors and county commissioners, while carefully maintaining a flexible attitude in dealing with independent politicians, such as Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).
At the same time, China’s snubbing of Taichung’s and Taoyuan’s mayors — both members of the DPP — at an urban traffic policy conference in Shanghai shows that its hardline approach toward DPP mayors and commissioners will only intensify.
Translated by staff writer Jonathan Chin
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