In the latest among a raft of personnel changes within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Taiwan-policy apparatuses, senior Chinese statesmen Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) has been confirmed as the new chairman of the National Society of Taiwan Studies (全國台灣研究會). The National Society of Taiwan Studies (NSTS), which held a senior council meeting on February 17, unveiled its new chairman and leadership team, which further suggests that changes are in the offing in how the PRC approaches its policy towards Taiwan.
Dai (b. 1941), a former State Councilor and senior foreign policy as well as national security adviser to Hu Jintao, is currently 75 years old. He is a product of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s International Liaison Department (ILD), which serves both a foreign policy and intelligence function for the Party leadership. Dai spent 8 years of this career in the ILD system, first as the deputy director of the department in 1995 then as director of the department from 1997-2003.
According to its website:
[The ILD’s] main responsibilities are threefold: to implement the principles and policies of the Central Committee over its external work, follow closely in its research work the developments and changes of the world situation and key global issues and provide briefing and policy proposals to the Central Committee; to carry out the Party’s exchanges and communications with foreign political parties and organizations entrusted by the Central Committee; to coordinate in administering international exchanges of departments directly under the Central Committee and Party committees of provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities under direct jurisdiction of the central government.
As a declassified study conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency notes: “the ILD performed the task of finding, investigating and eventually supporting pro-Chinese splinter groups and malcontents, encouraging them to form so-called “Marxist-Leninist” parties ….” The current minister of the CCP-ILD is Song Tao (宋涛).
Among his many senior party-government posts, Dai served as the director of the General Office of the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group (FALSG) of the CCP Central Committee, an office that acts as the primary policy coordination organ for foreign affairs, and director of the General Office of the National Security Leadership Group of the CCP Central Committee, in which he serves in the capacity of national security advisor to Hu. Dai also served as vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as PRC ambassador to Hungary.
According to its website, NSTS was formed in 1988 as a “civilian” platform comprised of academics, professionals, and organizations researching Taiwan and cross-Strait relations. As a clear indication of its united front function, the association states that it conducts research and organizes academic conferences and exchanges for the explicit purpose of “advancing peaceful development in cross-Strait relations and peaceful unification of the motherland” (促進兩岸關係和平發展與祖國的和平統一). Other organizations reportedly operating in an intelligence function for the CCP’s United Front system include the Alumni Association of the Huangpu Military Academy (黃埔軍校同學會), China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (中國和平統一促進會), and the All-China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots (中華全國台灣同胞聯誼會), among others.
According to its website, NSTS has more than 40 organizational members, 1,000 individual members, 40 executive council members, and 180 councilors including senior representatives from state-run media, central government offices, various government agencies under the State Council (the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Commerce, and Public Security, and university research centers), the Academy of Military Science, and government research centers.
Stacked with government officials—which belies its supposedly civilian (民間) status—the leadership structure consists of four deputy chairmen: Li Yafei (李亞飛), Cai Fang (蔡昉), Zheng Jianbang (鄭建邦), and Sun Yafu (孫亞夫). Indeed, Li serves as the deputy director of the CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Office, the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, and as vice president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS); Cai serves as vice chairman of the premier government research institution, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Zheng serves as the vice chairman of the Chinese Kuomintang Revolutionary Committee; and Sun serves as the vice president of ARATS.
Other senior officers include the executive deputy secretary-general Yang Youyan (楊幽燕); five deputy secretary generals: Li Peng(李鵬), Li Zhigang (李志剛) (who serves as the secretary to Dai), Yan Jun (嚴峻), Zheng Qingyong (鄭慶勇), and Ni Yongjie (倪永傑); and 25 executive council members (常務理事): Wang Sheng (王升), Wang Lei (王鐳), Zhu Weidong (朱衛東), Zhu Youbao (朱慶葆), Sun Yafu (孫亞夫), Liu Guoshen (劉國深), Liu Jiayu (劉傢裕), Su Ge （蘇格）, Wu Shicun (吳士存), Li Peng (李鵬), Li Yafei (李亞飛), Yan Anlin (嚴安林), Zhang Guanhua (張冠華), Yang Youyan (楊幽燕), Yang Yizhou (楊毅周), Zhou Yezhong (周叶中), Zhou Zhihuai (周志懷), Zheng Jianbang (鄭建邦), Yuan Peng (袁鵬), Jia Qingguo (賈慶國), Ni Yongjie (倪永傑), Huang Renwei (黃仁偉), Huang Jialu (黃嘉樹), Cai Fang (蔡昉), and Dai Bingguo (戴秉國).
In his remarks at the executive council meeting, the incoming NSTS Chairman emphasized five priorities: 1) strengthen understanding about Xi Jinping’s thought on Taiwan work; 2) comprehensively strengthen Taiwan research; 3) further strengthen exchanges with different sectors of Taiwanese people to deepen understanding about public opinion, with an emphasis on promoting activities related to youth exchange; 4) further consider the external factors such as regional and global events influencing the Taiwan issue; and 5) strengthen NSTS’ organizational development (台研會自身建設).
Contrary to prior reporting that Zhou Zhihuai, the director of the MSS-affiliated Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was retaining his position as vice chairman of NSTS, Zhou will serve as an executive council member in the new configuration of NSTS leadership.
In the final analysis, the increased number of appointments of senior cadres in the new NSTS leadership suggests the elevation of the NSTS’ status. Some experts from Taiwan believe that the appointments are related to President Trump’s administration. Considering Dai’s background as an international statesman, well known in the United States for serving as the Chinese representative to the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, it stands to reason that the shift in focus may be an orientation towards external actors affecting cross-Strait relations.
The main point: The appointment of a new chairman and leadership structure at NSTS, which is a part of the United Front system, further suggests that there may be changes in how the PRC approaches its policy towards Taiwan. Specifically, these developments indicate an emphasis on the external factors influencing cross-Strait relations.
Correction: A previous article translated 全國台灣研究會 as National Taiwan Research Association.