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Chinese Policy Towards Taiwan

Beijing regards democratic and self-governing Taiwan as part of its territory, a breakaway province that must return to the motherland. Chinese people have a growing hatred for the "hegemonic and unilateral behavior" of the United States. Previously, Beijing had to tolerate US pro-Taiwan actions because it was weak. Someday in the future, China will be strong enough that it will not have to tolerate this anymore. The Taiwan issue remains the most explosive of nationalist issues.

After Xi took office, everyone was talking about the historical legacy he might leave as the leader of a great party. Deng Xiaoping created the path of market economy, which may bring Deng a spot in history. If you could realize liberal democracy and accomplish political transformation, you could also earn a spot in the history. This is the first perspective. As for the second perspective, it is a fact that China and Taiwan have been separated for decades. If you could unite the two sides while you are in office, then you could also earn a spot in history. So, he may want to earn that spot through unification. Therefore, I believe that he does have that intention. Moreover, “unification” is a traditional concept in an imperial system. He may feel that he wants to achieve this goal, even with the use of force, to conquer Taiwan. He may think “If I succeed, I will become a modern emperor who accomplished national unification.” So, many believe that he has the intention to do so.

While ordinary Chinese may not rank Taiwan at the top of their day-to-day concerns, emotions toward Taiwan run deep and would quickly come to the surface in times of crisis, with major implications for leadership legitimacy. The political cost to the Chinese leadership for mismanaging a crisis with Japan or "losing" Taiwan would be high.

China has long identified Taiwan as one of its core interests. Chinese leaders see preventing Taiwan's formal independence as crucial to their legitimacy, and the United States is committed to the defense of the status quo absent agreement to a change by the peoples on both sides of the Strait. Taiwan will continue to be the largest threat to U.S.-China relations, potentially resulting in armed conflict.

In 1945, Taiwan was restored to Chinese rule after 50 years as a Japanese colony. In 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist army retreated to Taiwan and the Nationalist (KMT) party ruled the island until 2000. The Taiwan authorities several years changed policies and now no longer insist that they are the sole legitimate rulers of all of China. The United States believes that differences between Taipei and Beijing should be resolved peacefully in a manner acceptable to people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The January 1, 1979 "New Year's Message" marked the end of the Mainland's shelling of Taiwan-held offshore islands and a shift toward the goal of "peaceful reunification," rather than the "armed liberation" of Taiwan.

Daily direct cross-Strait charter flight service began in December 2008, and the two sides also began cargo charter flights, direct shipping, direct postal service, and cooperation on food safety issues. More than 1.5 million PRC tourists were expected to go to Taiwan in 2010. More than two million mainland tourists arrived in 2013. Many senior P.R.C. officials--including the culture minister, a vice minister of public security, the mayor of Shanghai, and numerous provincial governors and Communist Party leaders--have visited as part of an effort to improve mainland China's image among a generally wary Taiwan population.

The primary purpose of Hu Jintao's "peaceful development framework" was to stabilize the cross-Strait situation. China's approach to cross-Strait issues was "first economics, then politics, first easy then hard", but that did not mean that the two sides needed to "scrupulously avoid sensitive issues". Hu first mentioned the "first development, then reunification" concept on a visit to Brazil in 2004. The policy was further developed through Hu's March 2005 "four nevers" speech, his meetings with KMT Chairman Lien Chan and People's First Party Chairman James Soong later that year, and in the Taiwan portion of the political report at the October 2007 17th Party Congress.

Hu Jintao's policy reflected a deeper understanding of the situation in Taiwan and the realization that reunification would not happen quickly. The Hong Kong experience showed that even if reunification were to happen, that would not mean the end of problems. Bringing stability to the Taiwan issue benefited the Mainland because it allowed Chinese leaders to focus on domestic challenges rather than being distracted by "external" concerns. The basic thrust of his policy aimed for gradual improvement of cross-Strait relations with no timelines or deadlines.

President Hu Jintao's 31 December 2008 speech to mark the 30th anniversary of the "New Year's Message to Taiwan Compatriots" was primarily intended to establish Hu Jintao's own policy direction on Taiwan. It was the "definitive and comprehensive statement" of Hu Jintao's Taiwan policy. The policy direction laid out by Hu is "more flexible and less urgent" than that of his predecessors. President Hu's 31 December 2008 speech on Taiwan, which had been more "overarching," had mentioned the fight against Taiwan independence. Language opposing Taiwan "independence and separatism" had been included for more than a decade in government work reports delivered to the NPC and CCPPCC, so dropping those terms was "extremely significant."

During an 05 March 2009 address by Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Communist Party's second-highest ranking leader, Wen hailed the significant improvement in ties and a major reduction in tensions between both sides of the strait. "We are ready to hold talks on cross-strait political and military issues and create conditions for ending the state of hostilities and concluding a peace agreement," he said.

The "softer" language on Taiwan used in Beijing during the "two meetings" (of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)) by Premier Wen Jiabao and CPPCC Chairman Jia Qinglin, neither of whom made standard reference to opposing Taiwan independence, was "extremely significant," according to Beijing-based Taiwan experts. Both leaders had focused on cross-Strait economic development and reiterated the key points of President Hu Jintao's "peaceful development" framework approach. Because of the current positive state of cross-Strait relations, there was no need to discuss the threat of Taiwan independence.

While addressing the opening of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in November 2012, Hu Jintao, outgoing general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, suggested the mainland and Taiwan set up a military security confidence-building mechanism and reach a peace agreement through consultation. Hu suggested the two sides jointly explore cross-Strait political relations and make reasonable arrangements under the special condition that the country has yet to be reunified.

Whether China's ruling elites would completely fall in behind Hu on Taiwan policy, as they did on Deng's shift to a market economy in 1992, or possibly resist him, as many did with former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang's attempts at political reform in the mid-1980s, remained to be seen.

In 2010 the "overreaction" to US arms sales to Taiwan was attributed to government dynamics in Beijing. The PLA reaction was emotional, the MFA did not want to be marginalized, and nobody wanted to be seen as 'chicken'. Each reacted individually, without any cross agency coordination, and strong statements were a kind of "political correctness". The Chinese public was genuinely shocked by the arms sale, having been lulled into false expectations by continual good-news stories about the US-China relationship beginning with the 30th anniversary celebrations in January 2009. The Chinese media fueled, rather than reduced, this sense of outrage.

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on 25 February 2013 stressed the CPC's duty to carry forward the peaceful development of mainland-Taiwan relations. "It is the duty of the new CPC leadership to continue promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait ties and the peaceful reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait," Xi said while meeting with visiting Honorary Chairman of the Kuomintang Lien Chan at the Great Hall of the People. According to Xi, the new CPC leaders have full confidence in unwaveringly promoting the peaceful development of mainland-Taiwan ties and overcoming difficulties in ushering in new prospects for the relations, as well as in joining hands with Taiwan compatriots to embrace the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Xi expressed his hope that Taiwan can develop along with the mainland and that compatriots from both sides of the strait can cooperate in realizing the "Chinese dream".

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on 26 September 2014 vowed to take "a firm and unwavering stance" on national reunification. At the Great Hall of the People, Xi told a visiting Taiwanese delegation of pro-reunification groups that cross-Strait peaceful development would not change, despite new problems facing the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.

"No secessionist act will be tolerated," Xi said. "The path of Taiwan independence is unfeasible.... We treat our Taiwan compatriots equally and without discrimination. We welcome anyone willing to promote peaceful cross-Strait development, whatever stance he once took.... Although the Chinese mainland and Taiwan have been separate since 1949, the fact that the two sides belong to one China has not changed, and will not be changed."

Xi said reunification will end political confrontation but it does not mean remolding territory and sovereignty. The basic guideline to solve the Taiwan question is "peaceful reunification; one country, two systems" and it is also the best way to realize national reunification. We will strive for peaceful reunification with "utmost sincerity and effort" as reunification through peaceful means best suits the overall interests of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan, Xi said.

"One country, two systems" in Taiwan will take the island's actual condition into consideration, absorb suggestions from both sides and fully consider the interests of Taiwan compatriots, he said. The mainland is "willing to shorten the psychological distance of the two sides with sincerity, kindness and familial affection," Xi said, adding that Taiwan compatriots should also try to understand the mentality and feelings of the 1.3-billion mainlanders, and respect their choices and aspirations.

It is historically inevitable that China will be reunified along its path to rejuvenation. The nation has experienced enough hardship in seeking revival. Reunification breeds strength while secession creates turbulence, he said. The Chinese nation's revival is closely linked to the future of both sides, and Taiwan's future lies in national reunification. Taiwan cannot prosper without national prosperity, Xi said. He encouraged Taiwan compatriots to grasp the opportunity and join with the mainland to realize peaceful reunification and the great revival and share the nation's dignity and glory on the global stage.

Liu Guoshen, director of a Taiwan research institute at Xiamen University, said the mainland took a firm stance and pragmatic approach, putting pressure on secessionists, while at the same time leaving leeway for pragmatic forces within the Democratic Progressive Party. Xi's description of a "spiritual connection between the two sides" shows how both sides should keep on enhancing mutual understanding and respect, Liu said. "Previously, we stressed mainland respect for the mentality of the Taiwanese. Now, Taiwan should also understand the feelings of 1.3 billion people in the mainland," Liu said.

For eight years, from 2008 to 2016, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou pursued a policy of rapprochement with Beijing. According to J. Michael Cole, chief editor of the Taiwan Sentinel, the key reason for China’s shift to a subversion strategy is the failure of an eight-year-long attempt by China “to shape Taiwanese self identification and support for unification through various economic incentives and various acts self-described as ‘goodwill.’”

That approach had the counterproductive effect of strengthening a trend in Taiwan for its people to identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, an identity that has been highlighted repeatedly in public opinion polls in Taiwan. And in elections for both the executive and legislative branches of government 2016, Taiwan’s voters came out in favor of a return to power of what Cole calls the “Taiwan-centric” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Beijing’s attempts to subvert democracy would involve, among other things, encouraging splits among the island’s people that would work to China’s advantage. Cole summed this up well when he wrote that “instead of trying in vain to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese as part of its effort to engineer the unification of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has…abandoned that strategy.” Cole said, the CCP is “now intensifying efforts to corrode and undermine Taiwan’s democratic institutions, create social instability, further isolate Taiwan internationally, and hollow out Taiwan’s economy by attracting its talent.”

China’s efforts to get Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to break their ties with the island and switch their recognition to Beijing can have a psychological effect. Since the election of Tsai Ing-wen as president of Taiwan in 2016, China has intensified its anti-Taiwan diplomatic offensive. On 24 May 2018, the West African nation of Burkina Faso cut its ties with Taiwan, ending a 24-year-long relationship with Taipei only a few weeks after the Dominican Republic severed its relations with Taiwan. Taiwan now had only 18 diplomatic allies around the world compared with 22 when Tsai was elected president.

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Page last modified: 05-11-2021 17:45:29 ZULU