Wooing Taiwan's Independence-Minded Youth
Can Xi’s ‘National Treatment’ Strategy Work?
A continued stalemate appears to be on the horizon for official cross-strait relations following the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress. Yet it is worth watching to see how far such substantive measures as “national treatment” aimed at facilitating cross-strait “fusion development” rolled out by PRC President Xi Jinping could go towards winning over a generation of Taiwanese naturally favoring independence.
Can Xi’s ‘National Treatment’ Strategy Work?By Shu-ren Koo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 634 )
As autumn fell, both sides of the Taiwan Strait held major national celebrations and official events. Both at the two sides’ respective National Days and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 19th Party Congress, leaders used the occasion to make major policy statements.
As usual, cross-strait relations was one of the areas of focus. Given the podium, each side ended up reiterating its own position, signaling the continued stagnation of official cross-strait relations going forward.
“Neither Beijing nor Taipei wish to alter their own political bottom line at present. And neither side has the power to change the other’s position,” offers Kou Chien-wen, professor of political science at National Chengchi University and interim director of the university’s Institute of International Studies.
Following the 19th Party Congress, officialdom on both sides of the strait will likely maintain the current stalemate, Kou predicts.
In her address on Double Ten National Day, President Tsai Ing-wen reiterated support for “maintaining the status quo,” without mentioning the “1992 consensus.” Regarding the latter, she merely expressed “respect for the historical fact of bilateral talks” by cross-strait representative bodies in 1992.
Across the strait, in his political report to the 19th Party Congress on October 18, Xi Jinping reiterated the party’s fall-back positions of “peaceful unification” and “one country, two systems,” once again stressing “one China, the 1992 consensus,” and opposition to Taiwanese independence.
Despite stagnant official relations, Beijing would not like to see private sector exchanges come to a halt. In fact, it looks to expand exchange, especially in terms of efforts to “win over Taiwanese hearts and minds.”
Taiwan Too Weak, Risks Too Great
During his address to the 19th Party Congress, Xi Jinping stated China’s intention to “progressively provide the same treatment for Taiwanese compatriots studying, starting businesses, working, and living in China as their mainland compatriots.”
”The latest turn of phrase is ‘fusion development,’” explains Yang Kai-huang, director of the Cross-Strait Research Center at Ming Chuan University. After eight years of former President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration in Taiwan, Beijing realized that sending personnel and money to Taiwan, conceding to Taiwan’s interests, or purchasing goods from Taiwan as a method of exchange did not yield the expected results, and in fact led to a monopoly of benefits in the hands of a few.
Consequently, China aims to “shift the main theater of exchange from Taiwan to mainland China,” says Yang.
Over the past two years, the PRC government has made concerted efforts to attract Taiwan’s young people to start businesses in China, wooing newly minted Taiwanese Ph.D holders to take teaching positions in China’s institutions of higher learning. At the same time, more and more young Taiwanese are opting to take on employment at such big-name Chinese private corporations as Alibab, Baidu, and Tencent.
Chen Te-Sheng, chief executive of the Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation, relates that the latest approach going forward is to open the way for Taiwanese to take internships, jobs, and even management positions at national enterprises in China
This past March, XiamenAir, a quasi-state enterprise, recruited 60 Taiwanese flight attendants. And it is expected that still more detailed related policy measures will be introduced at the National People’s Congress next March.
In an additional move, the PRC government plans to unify the numbering of identification cards issued to Taiwanese citizens who wish to travel to and live in China to match that of PRC citizens.
This way, Taiwanese purchasing Chinese bullet train tickets online, for instance, can enjoy the same convenience of on-line credit card purchases as mainland citizens without having to line up in person at a ticket window.
Yang Kai-huang feels that this approach reflects Xi Jinping’s and the CCP’s confidence in their environment and attractiveness, believing that the more Taiwanese people enter Chinese society, the more the cross-strait psychological gap can be bridged.
For young people, sluggish economic growth, no clear breakthroughs by local enterprises, lack of new opportunities, and low salaries in Taiwan present a strong contrast with the thriving development and rapidly rising private enterprises across the strait in the PRC.
Amidst the push and pull, more and more young people are heading westward to China for the bigger stage, greater opportunities, and bigger potential for development. On a more pragmatic level, they figure they can exchange their salary in New Taiwan Dollars for the same number of Renminbi (about 4.5 times the value at the current exchange rate).
“The CCP is quite confident that cross-strait relations will develop in a direction beneficial to themselves,” opines Kou Chien-wen.
In his book, Dealing with China, former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that the U.S. and China should avoid antagonism and should work together on more mutual interests.
Only when the United States is working from a position of strength and not weakness can it deal with China in the most effective manner, he wrote.
Paulson stresses that the prime objective for the United States is to restore economic competitiveness, claiming that its own weaknesses are a bigger issue than China’s rise.
Paulson’s remarks could be seen as equally applicable to Taiwan in describing cross-strait relations.
Translated from the Chinese article by David Toman