While meeting with a delegation led by Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), Chairwoman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party (KMT) in Beijing on November 1st, President Xi Jinping (習近平), General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), underscored the importance of adhering to the so-called “1992 consensus,” which affirms the “one-China” principle, and reiterated China’s resolute opposition to forces supporting Taiwan independence. Speaking after Xi, Hung stated the KMT’s objection to Taiwan independence and proposed ending the decades-long hostility across the Taiwan Strait through a peace accord. She also asserted that, as the official cross-Strait communication channel has been suspended, it is the KMT’s “unshakable responsibility” to help address relevant problems through the KMT-CCP communication mechanisms.
Chairwoman Hung was in Beijing during November 1-3 for the annual KMT-CCP dialogue, which was renamed the “Cross-Strait Peaceful Development Forum.” In contrast with other former KMT chairs, such as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), and Vice President Lien Chan (連戰), Chairwoman Hung’s base of support in the party is rather weak, and her audacious pro-China stance is highly unpopular and has been severely criticized. Although Hung advertised her trip to China as a journey of peace, many in Taiwan, as well as in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), see her as a supplicant, seeking China’s support in order to strengthen her position in the Nationalist Party, which has faced flagging support at home, and thus be re-elected as chairwoman next year.
In the wake of Taiwan’s national election, the KMT lost the Presidential Palace and retained only 35 out of 113 seats in Legislative Yuan (LY). The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) controls both the office of president and the legislature. What is the calculation behind Xi’s decision to invite Hung and engage closely with a KMT that has been much weakened and is seemingly unable to deliver what Beijing desires?
It is the CCP’s classic divide-and-conquer strategy, part of a united front operation, aimed at co-opting Hung and the KMT. Beijing has good reasons to cultivate and befriend Hung. After all, she is the incumbent KMT leader, advocates full acceptance of Beijing’s “one-China principle,” and has openly supported Taiwan’s unification with China. Under her stewardship, the KMT adopted a new peace-centered policy platform in September, much to Beijing’s liking.
In early February 2016, two weeks after the KMT’s devastating defeat, the CCP convened a Taiwan work conference to review its policy toward Taiwan. Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲), a member of the powerful CCP Politburo Standing Committee, Deputy Director of the CCP’s Taiwan Work Leading Small Group, and Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (中國人民政治協商會議) delivered “important remarks” on behalf of Xi, instructing the party to place great emphasis on “strengthening contacts and exchanges with all the political parties and groups that recognize both Taiwan and the Mainland belonging to China.” In plain language, Beijing seeks to divide Taiwan by colluding with the KMT and other pro-China groups to weaken and undermine the new DPP government.
Likewise, when the DPP was in power during 2000-2008, Beijing also skillfully exploited fault lines in Taiwan’s internal politics during a volatile time in its democratization—the bitter split between the ruling DPP and the opposition KMT. In April 2005, then President and CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) invited Lien Chan, then-Chairman of the KMT and its unsuccessful presidential candidate in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, to visit China to ostensibly forge a united front operation. There, Lien and Hu established the First KMT-CCP forum and issued a joint communiqué to oppose Taiwan’s independence and promote China’s eventual unification with Taiwan.
Unable to directly stop US arms sales to Taiwan, Beijing opted for a subtler approach engaging other pro-China parties—which then commanded a majority in the LY—and blocked the arms procurement budget submitted by the DPP administration under President Chen Shui-bian. The PRC’s manipulation of Taiwan’s political dynamics effectively misled officials of the George H.W. Bush administration and members of Congress who blamed Chen’s government for not paying enough attention to Taiwan’s defense.
Ma Ying-jeou’s election as Taiwan’s president and the KMT’s return to power in 2008 ushered in a significant change in cross-Strait dynamics and opened the door for Beijing to work closely with Ma and the KMT. Thus, Hu Jintao announced a six-point proposal to promote “the normalization of overall cross-Strait ties” in a major policy speech in December 2008. Hu called for close cross-Strait economic cooperation, cultural and educational exchanges, Taiwan’s international participation, and peace and security in the Taiwan Strait—which Ma also supported.
In his message to Taiwan, Xi has used many stale clichés that do not appeal to young Taiwanese at all. His “China Dream” and calls for ethnic solidarity, national unity, and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation during his meeting with President Ma last November do not present a vision that the Taiwanese people would cherish.
In her first National Day speech on October 10, President Tsai called upon Chinese leaders “to face up the reality that the Republic of China exists, and that the people of Taiwan have an unshakable faith in the Democratic system.” President Xi ought to take her statement seriously. It is an undeniable fact that Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan has failed and time for a reset in China’s approach to relations with Taiwan.
The main point: Xi’s decision to invite KMT Chairwoman Hung and engage closely with the KMT reflects the CCP’s classic divide-and-conquer strategy and united front operation. There needs to be a reset in China’s relations with Taiwan.
 It was previously called the Cross-Strait Forum for Economy, Trade and Culture.
 In 2015, Hung advocated “one China, same interpretation” and claimed China referred to the People’s Republic of China, a position quite different from “One China, different interpretations” the formula used by then KMT Chair Eric Chu and President Ma. Hung’s position was widely seen as overtly pro-China and deeply alienated Taiwan’s grassroots; the KMT removed her as it presidential candidate and picked Eric Chu at the last moment.
 Conclusions reached by the author, based on conversations with American counterparts during his time working for Taiwan’s National Security Council during 2004-06.