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Focus on Mainland-Taiwan integrated development and cross-Strait relations: views from Liu Kuangyu
China anticipates sustained efforts to tackle challenges and achieve peaceful reunification
I hope you're enjoying your days without GRR emails. Many of you have expressed interest in the recent released circular on the cross-Strait Fujian and Taiwan integration development plan and GRR's full-text translation of the circular . I received so much positive feedback and, to provide more insights, I managed to interview 刘匡宇 Liu Kuangyu, an associate research fellow with the Taiwan Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences before the National Day holidays. The interview aimed to address some of the questions that arose among international China observers after the plan's release.
If you've kept pace with Beijing's perspective on the Taiwan issue, some of Liu's insights might sound familiar. However, for some specific issues, I believe his perspective can offer a fresh understanding.
Liu Kuangyu, associate research fellow with the Taiwan Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Question 1: The plan was released only four months before Taiwan's 2024 election. Is there any implication in it?
Liu: The circular was not associated with Taiwan's election four months away. If it were to have some correlation, it should be launched even later in order to achieve maximized effect. Because Taiwan voters love hotspots, so there will definitely be more valuable buzz before the election.
The mainland will not intervene in the island's affairs, and has no specific candidate to support in the election.
However, it does stand as the biggest supporter of mainstream public opinion in Taiwan that wishes for cross-Strait peace and cooperation. The mainland is concerned about which candidate will be more able to meet people's common interests in this regard, and who can better sustain the peaceful and integrated development across the Strait.
From this perspective, the document was released at this particular moment to provide choices for Taiwan voters.
Question 2: The circular said that the the Chinese government support Fujian Province in "exploring a new path" on cross-Strait integrated development. Chinese decision-makers had mentioned "exploring a new path" on this issue multiple times before. From your view, in what aspects is this circular different from prior policies in terms of "exploring a new path"?
Liu: In the introduction part of this document, the focus does not lie in the specific measures to facilitate integrated development, but rather in promoting China's peaceful reunification. In other words, no matter what path may be taken to achieve integrated development, the ultimate goal is to promote national unity. Now the objective is clear. The 21 detailed measures setting up Fujian as a demonstration zone to explore a new development path are what we called strategic solutions. Chinese strategies on Taiwan question are well-exemplified in the document.
It is also worth noting that China anticipates long-term efforts instead of instantaneous outcomes right after the release ("久久为功" jiǔ jiǔ wéi gōng). The country knows deeply that integrated development and peaceful reunification are arduous endeavors intertwined with Chinese style modernization, national rejuvenation and two centenary goals. It is an overarching, long-range framework.
Question 2: We know that "a demonstration zone" is setting examples for other regions. What are some regions or cities in the Chinese mainland other than Fujian that have the potential to participate in the cross-Strait integrated development?
Liu: In fact, the economic and industrial ties are rather close between mainland provinces such as Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jiangsu and Henan and Taiwanese enterprises. I come from Henan, and the local Foxconn is an important node on the cross-Strait industrial chain. These important provinces and regions can certainly learn a lot from the Fujian demonstration zone.
From the point of view of culture, for example, there are many birthplace memorial sites of Emperor Huangdi and Guan Yu in Shaanxi and Henan province, which the Fujianese people also believe in apart from Mazu. Therefore, numerous cultural links can be constructed through these common Chinese traditional beliefs.
In addition, municipalities and metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai can give full play to their economic and industrial advantages, connecting with Taiwan in various fields. For instance, Shanghai-Taipei City Forum now stands as a top cross-Strait communication platform on the local level, while the 25-year-old Beijing-Taiwan Science and Technology Forum aims at targeted exchanges and fully demonstrates Beijing's technological and cosmopolitan nature as a capital. Many places harbor their own advantages in some particular fields that are worth digging.
Shanghai-Taipei City Forum, 2023
Question 3: You have just mentioned the Chinese idiom jiǔ jiǔ wéi gōng "久久为功", which means that nothing can be achieved overnight, and there will always be challenges and twists and turns. The circular does not stipulate when the measures should or will be implemented. Which of the 21 measures do you think are able to be put into effect quickly, and which ones may be more challenging?
Liu: The 21 measures can be divided into several categories, the majority of which depend on the mainland side to implement. That is to say, the establishing of a demonstration zone can be, to a large extent, driven by decisive forces such as the central government or Fujian government. Measures in certain parts of the document are easier to achieve because they largely requires mainland governments' efforts, for example, making Fujian the first-choice destination for Taiwan residents on the mainland (Part Ⅰ), promoting integration of the whole Fujian Province (Part Ⅲ), and deepening social and people-to-people exchanges (Part Ⅳ).
However, the second part on the trade and economic integration, which talks about business environment improvement in Fujian and industrial chain integration, are relatively more challenging. The main challenge comes from Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cooperating with the United States' strategies of economic and trade decoupling and technology containment against China, which are also known as "decoupling and chain breaking" and "small yard, high fence" policy.
The DPP in office has been trying to obstruct normal economic and trade exchanges between two sides of the Strait in the past seven years, especially in most recent years. It particularly directed at high-tech supply chain, which the integrated development plan will correspondingly address.
Nevertheless, it would be quite difficult as America is exerting its influence as an external factor. For example, TSMC's withdrawlled from the mainland to invest in high-end semiconductor chip production was prompted by both Taiwan authorities and the United States. So this document is actually suggesting an active pulling force from the mainland side to counteract the above two.
In terms of cross-Strait social and cultural exchanges, the DPP will also be a drag. The Tsai Ing-wen administration has been manoeuvring its way with extensive political propaganda, accusing the mainland of splitting Taiwan. She used these claims, together with some laws introduced, to constrain the exchanges between people across the Strait, forbidding Taiwan residents to involve in certain activities on the Chinese mainland. Although Tsai may not have the nerve to do it blatantly, or to put those Taiwanese who travel to the mainland through judicial trials, it will create a chilling effect on the people of Taiwan. To avoid trouble, many may refrain from participating in mainland-related affairs, especially those affiliated with a party or the authorities. They will be the ones who directly feel such resistance.
The measures including the construction of Fujian-Xiamen-Kinmen bridge and the expected high-speed railway to Taiwan are fundamental and essential projects in this integration development plan. But the DPP authorities are highly wary of and opposed to them. So when the mainland is propelling the initiatives that no one has done before (suppling water to Kinmen, for example), it will definitely feel a counterforce from Taiwan, leading to a probably long-lasting game.
Question 4: You mentioned that some would describe mainland's policy towards Taiwan as "文攻武赫" (using both strategy and force). Interestingly, on the day the circular was released, many overseas mainstream media used a similar phrase "carrot and stick" as they saw the mainland's military exercises. What do you think of the comment?
Liu: When put together, the circular and the military activities do seem to create a synergy effect. But it is worth noting that the mainland's exercises towards Taiwan are all within the boundaries of regular and normal. In other words, China's daily aircraft drills are not out of a desire to intimidate Taiwan. Instead, they are targeted at peace in the Western Pacific region, and the Taiwan Strait is only a passage.
By doing so, China only intends to convey two ideas. It is asserting its maritime and air sovereignty; it is exercising its right of jurisdiction.
The Democratic Progressive Party frequently claims that the mainland has never effectively governed Taiwan. This isn't accurate. The Taiwan Strait is part of Taiwan's jurisdiction. We manage situations within the Strait, including non-traditional security issues related to fisheries and sand dredging. Our actions, such as deploying fishery administration and dispatching patrol boats, demonstrate our jurisdictional authority. Similarly, when our military aircraft patrol the area, they're also asserting and exercising our jurisdiction.
Question 5: You mentioned that it is still Tsai who holds power, and it seems that Lai Ching-te has the biggest chance in the 2024 Taiwan election. How do you comment on Lai's political stance and experience? Earlier, he said he was "a pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence", but now he rarely says that.
If he is elected, will his cross-Strait policies different from Tsai Ing-wen's during her years in power? And how will they affect the implementation of the document?
Liu: Lai is a self-proclaimed "pragmatic worker for Taiwan independence", but objectively, he is a stubborn, ideological type. At the same time, he is also a candidate who has been carefully nurtured for many years by the pro-independentists inside the DPP, and now who comes forward to seize the power.
When he initially entered politics, Lai served as a member of what was then called the National Assembly of Taiwan, equivalent to the present role of a legislator. In the early 1990s when Lee Teng-hui was in power, he was already a flag-waving supporter for Taiwan independence, joining an extremist group inside the parliament. Later, he became the mayor of Tainan City and the leader of the New Tide party faction. During Tsai Ing-wen's administration, he was the president of Taiwan's top executive body and then aided Tsai as the deputy leader. All these years, Lai's pro-independence stance has never changed. But he would add all kinds of prefixes: "pragmatic independence" "peaceful independence" and "advocating independence while keeping friendly relations with the mainland", etc. In other words, Lai's inclination for Taiwan independence is not just a political necessity, but a deep-rooted belief.
This means that there is a big difference between him and Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai's stance and policies represent a progressive type of independence, which is motivated by her desire to retain her power and win the support of the U.S. The U.S. does not allow Taiwan's leaders to overtly talk about independence, but they can secretly promote it and incline to it. In the U.S.' eye, an ideal Taiwan leader should be hostile to the mainland and act under America's control.
Over the past seven years, Tsai has done a lot of progressive groundwork for Taiwan independence, which means that she also realized the importance of "久久为功". She intentionally chose not to initiate complete independence within her term, only laying the foundation, including amending some restrictive regulations like the Constitution and legal provisions, so as to smooth the way for subsequent procedures.
Article Eight in the Anti-Secession Law insinuates that the mainland will employ non-peaceful means if there is a referendum to formulate or amend the constitution in Taiwan, which means the island is one more step closer to independence on the legal front.
Although Tsai will not initiate a referendum, she lowered the threshold for it, bringing down the voting age from 20 to 18. It is crystal clear that she is paving the way for her successors.
It is also worth highlighting that American hawks are frequently making statements in support of Taiwan independence and denial of the "one-China" policy. For example, some do not recognize United Nations resolution 2758, claiming that Taiwan question is not China's internal affair and that the premise of "one-China" policy is for the country to peacefully address Taiwan issues. In other words, if there is no peaceful settlement, the United States will reject China's sovereignty over Taiwan. Then there will be no such thing as Sino-U.S diplomatic relations, because the mutual recognition is the politically fundamental.
Question 6: What do you think of Taiwan's current election situation? How do you evaluate the four candidates, namely, Lai Ching-Te, Hou You-Yi, Ko Wen-je and Terry Gou?
Liu: Taiwan's 2024 election is unprecedentedly complicated. On the one hand, the United States and Japan had early began their intervention, supporting their favored candidates and creating divisions in the opposition camp, thus manipulating the election process. On the other hand, three parties and four forces are involved in the contest, which makes it even more sophisticated and volatile. In a nutshell, the complexity stems from the general geopolitical environment and the island's specific political condition.
Presently, it seems that Lai is in a stable lead for several months, but things may change. Because Lai himself does not have a particularly outstanding electoral performance, and his poll hovers around 35 percent most of the time, lower than Tsai's in the previous election and lower than the DPP's average votes. It means that some swing voters who voted for the DPP before (especially the youth, white collars and women), do not favor Lai now. Furthermore, public opinion of "dragging down the DPP" still pervades, and the party's malpractice still rings a bell in citizens' heart. So the possibility of a waterloo in the coming months cannot be ruled out.
Hou Youyi used to be a police officer and a law-enforcer, which to some extent determines his political style—pragmatic, stable, predictable and problem-orientated. He is not good at political propaganda, and lacks vision in the cross-Strait and foreign-related issues, which are the major reasons for his low support in the early stage. However, it is exactly these traits that have brought his poll higher recently to overtake Ko Wen-je. This shows that voters are beginning to deal with the election more rationally after witnessing some chaos in the DPP and Lai's campaign. Hou's solid working style and steady political stance have compensated for his shortcomings, making him the choice of more rational voters.
The situations for Ko and Gou are somewhat similar, in that their supporters are highly overlapping with those of the Kuomintang (KMT). That is to say, their candidacy will possibily make pro-KMT and undecided voters change their ideas, splitting the votes of the opposition party. Both of them are not able to win as an independent, but they still insist on running in the election. Apart from the need to maintain their personal and party's power, that's also due to the push of external forces, as well as the covert support from the Democratic Progressive Party. In this way, the non-green camp can be further weakened to make way for the DPP.
Voters should see that, the opposition has to incorporate the power of Ko and Gou in order to stand up as a rival of the DPP. Otherwise, if these two keep waiting and fall short of Kuomintang's expectations for cooperation, the result will disappoint the voters calling for "dragging down the DPP" and "cross-Strait peace and cooperation".
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