Less than two months after a stars-studded group of retired generals from Taiwan were televised on Chinese-state media participating in an official function in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), former Commander of the ROC Army and Lieutenant General (ret.) Chen Ting-chong (陳廷寵) reportedly led a group of eight retired generals from Taiwan to participate in the Fifth “Linking Fates” Cultural Festival of Cross-Strait Generals (第五屆海峽兩岸將軍連緣文化節) from January 6 to 8.
Based on a survey of Chinese media reports, the event was attended by 13 to 21 retired military generals from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwan delegation reportedly included former Army Headquarters Political Warfare Department Director, ROC Association Director (中華民國擎天協會), New Revolutionary Alliance (新同盟會) Deputy Chairman, and Lieutenant General (ret.) Chen Xin-guo (陳興國); former ROC Air Force Academy Principal and Lieutenant General (ret.) Chen Sheng-wen (陳盛文); former Commander of the ROC Combined Logistics Command General Ding Zhi-fa (丁之發); former ROC Combined Service Force’s Political Warfare Department Deputy Director Major General (ret.) Lai Zong-yan (賴宗煙); former Ministry of Defense Legislative Liaison Division Chief Colonel (ret.) Yu Gui-yong（余貴勇）; and former Commander of the Songshan Air Force Base Major General (ret.) Hsiao Shi-zai (蕭士材), among others.
Four-hundred people purportedly attended this year’s meeting. Among the notable Chinese participants were former President of the PLA’s Academy of Military Science General (ret.) Liu Jingsong (劉精鬆), former Deputy Commander of the Nanjing Military Region Lieutenant General (ret.) Liu Lunxian (劉倫賢), former Deputy Commander of the PLA(N) Vice Admiral (ret.) Zhao Xingfa (趙興發), and former Deputy Chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), among others.
At a legislative hearing held in late December 2016, Lai Yun-cheng (賴蘊誠), the Taiwan National Security Bureau’s (NSB) deputy chief of the Third Department (第三處)—which is in charge of the agency’s homeland security and intelligence portfolio—confirmed the retired military officers’ trip to concerned lawmakers. Lai indicated that, given the local media attention the trip had received, some of the retired military officers who were originally scheduled to attend had had a change of heart. This may explain why participation by retired military officers from Taiwan appears lower than previous years.
This trip follows on the heel of a controversial visit by several dozen retired Taiwan military officers—which Chen also participated in—to a state-level ceremony unprecedented in its stature and conspicuousness. While there is a difference between high-ranking retired military officers attending official events such as the Sun Yat-sen ceremony in November 2016—which was presided over by PRC President Xi Jinping—and what seems to be a non-state level function, both appear part and parcel of the CCP’s expanding United Front work and political warfare against Taiwan.
During a legislative hearing, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳), lamented how retired military officers participating in these United Front activities are engaging in acts that border treachery and corruption, and implied that there may be some connections between such exchanges and some participants initiating recalls on lawmakers in Taiwan. There is little that the government can do under current regulations to prevent these retired officers from attending such meetings; however, Veteran Affairs Council (VAC) Political Deputy Minister Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) stated that the government could consider imposing a longer travel ban on retired military officials, and establish a permanent screening mechanism for personnel who had access to highly-classified information.
To be sure, that retired military officers from Taiwan are involved in these exchanges should come as no surprise—such activities have been going on for some time. Yet, the range and scale of such activities, likely organized under the auspices of the United Front Work Department and possibly what was previously known as the PLA’s General Political Department, have increased in recent years. The increased visibility of such activities—particularly the elevation of the commemorative event in November 2016 to a state-level function—seems intended to send a political signal. This particular forum stands out because it exposes the many different types of channels that the CCP uses to conduct United Front operations.
Among the many cross-Strait channels, this cultural festival was organized by the Chinese Foundation for Military Families and Army Support (中國擁軍優屬基金會), the Chinese Lien Surname Fraternal Association (中華連氏宗親聯誼會), the China General Network (中國將軍網; www.chinageneral.org), the Fujian – Taiwan Exchanges Association (福建省閩台交流協會), the Xiamen Daily Newspaper (廈門日報社), and the Minnan Daily Newspaper (閩南日報社). Among the supporting organizations is one from Taiwan, the ROC Association (中華[民國]擎天協會), which is chaired by Lieutenant General (ret.) Chen Xin-guo. According to VAC Political Deputy Minister Lee, the main organizer of the festival is the “Lien Surname Enterprise” (連氏企業), which is a calligraphy society, but in reality the sponsors are usually the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office or other Taiwan-related work organizations.
This cultural festival is a relatively new front in the CCP’s United Front operations. The annual event begun in 2010, during the first Ma Ying-jeou administration, and has been held in Zhangzhou city in Fujian province—which is the PRC’s southeastern province closest to Taiwan.
The main point: The range and scale of such United Front activities have increased in recent years. The increased visibility of such activities—particularly the elevation of the commemorative event in November 2016 to a state-level function—appear designed to send a political signal. The “Linking Fates” Cultural Festival of Cross-Strait Generals stands out because it exposes the many different types of channels that the CCP uses to conduct United Front operations.