While the inaugural US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue was taking place in Washington DC, private citizens from Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) gathered in the coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian for the 9th Straits Forum (海峽論壇) from June 17-23. Beginning in 2009, the annual forum has attracted the largest congregation of private citizens at a single event from both sides of the Taiwan Strait to promote cross-Strait dialogue, and this year was no exception. The 9th Straits Forum was reportedly attended by 8,000 participants from Taiwan.
This year’s Forum heralded the 30th anniversary of cross-Strait exchanges that began after Taiwan lifted martial law in 1987. Interestingly, the end of martial law not only ended restrictions on cross-Strait interactions but also led to the formal establishment of the now ruling party. The Straits Forum, which bills itself as non-political, was attended by senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In his opening remarks, the chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲)—a member of the all-powerful CCP Politburo Standing Committee and deputy head of the CCP Central Leading Group for Taiwan—reportedly stated that “the core of the 1992 Consensus is the one-China policy, which states that both the mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China. It explicitly sets out that the fundamental nature of relations across the Taiwan Strait is not state-to-state relationship.”
The 9th Straits Forum incorporated a general assembly and separate forums on youth, grassroots, as well as economic and trade exchanges. In total, the forum featured 21 topics, and 40 activities covering cooperation in areas such as culture, education, medical care, law, industry, and commerce, among others. Continuing the focus of last year’s conference—which was the first Forum held during the Tsai administration—this year also highlighted the promotion of youth exchanges. The PRC State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) said at the events that young people shoulder the future of the country, nation, and cross-Strait relations. “We are one family, and cross-Strait is our shared home,” Zhang stated.
Notable participants from Taiwan in this year’s forum included the outgoing chairwoman of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party Hung Shiu-Chu (洪秀柱), Alliance for the Reunification of China (中國統一聯盟) Chairman Chi Jia-lin (戚嘉林), and Council of Taiwan Community Development Associations (臺灣社區發展協會聯合總會) Secretary General Lin Wu-Hsiung (林武雄), among others. Echoing the remarks of the CPPCC chairman, Hung highlighted how the KMT had passed a peace platform in the Party’s national assembly last year. In its platform, the KMT declared its firm opposition to “Taiwan independence” and called for deepening the so-called “1992 consensus,” which according to Hung, is intended to resolve the outstanding issues left unanswered in 1992 and reach a fundamental consensus on a common political definition of cross-Strait relations.
The Straits Forum is one of multiple cross-Strait initiatives launched after 2008, when exchanges between the two sides began to expand in number and accelerate in intensity. Indeed, Beijing began a concerted push to deepen cross-Strait interaction between various segments of Taiwan’s society during the former Ma Ying-jeou administration. Another high-level “non-governmental” exchange that began around 2008 is the Cross-Strait CEO Summit (兩岸企業家峰會). In 2009, the PRC also started to establish so-called “bases” (基地) for cross-Strait exchanges at locations throughout China that have historical and cultural significance for the purpose of promoting Chinese cultural bonds between the people of Taiwan and China (中華文化相互聯繫). According to one study, the number of such cross-Strait exchange bases (兩岸交流基地) totaled 37 in 2015
The 9th Straits Forum is the second one to be held since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president. Despite Beijing’s decision to freeze government-to-government contact between the two sides since June 2016, Beijing has continued to support these forums—ostensibly as part of its united front campaign against Taiwan’s ruling government.
In light of these trends, two recent polls warrant closer consideration. According to a recent Taiwan Thinktank (台灣智庫) poll conducted in late June, which covered—among other topics—public attitudes toward Tsai’s cross-Strait policies, 34.3 percent of youths between the ages 20 to 29 prefer to maintain the current “status quo,” whereas 43.3 percent of think Taiwan should “go its own path” (走台灣自己的路)—which implies a radical change in course—whereas those between 30 and 39 are 29.8 percent and 46 percent, respectively. In another survey released on June 26 , the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (台灣民意教育基金會) revealed that public discontent with Tsai’s performance in handling relations with China had risen to the highest level recorded at 58.2 percent.
The Tsai administration faces mounting political pressure on multiple fronts. Although President Tsai continues to commit her administration to maintaining the “status quo” in cross-Strait relations, Beijing has refused to reciprocate her government’s current approach. At the same time, support for maintaining the “status quo” in the Taiwan public may be waning, as Beijing tightens its squeeze on Taiwan’s diplomatic and international space. While Beijing appears to be reverting back to its strategy of trying to undermine the ruling government like it did in 2005, the effects may be counter-productive as people increasingly associate the “status quo” with Beijing’s aggressive diplomatic offensive against Taiwan.
The main point: Despite Beijing’s decision to freeze government-to-government contact between the two sides since June 2016, Beijing has continued to support these forums—ostensibly as part of its united front campaign against Taiwan’s ruling government.