Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Fortnightly Review

Who Will Replace Taiwan Affairs Office Director Zhang Zhijun?

Close observers of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Taiwan policy apparatus have been anticipating a change in the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) for the past year. The State Council’s TAO is currently headed by Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) who has held that position since 2013. In the PRC’s party-state system, the Chinese Communist Party’s Taiwan Work Office—which is directly subordinate to the CCP Central Committee—doubles as the State Council’s TAO. The TAO is responsible for implementing the policies set by the CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group (中共中央台灣工作領導小組會議) chaired by General Secretary Xi Jinping. While the current director has yet to step down, analysts believe that he could still be replaced sometime after the Congress meets in mid-October and before the next leading small group meeting, which will likely be held within the first quarter of 2018.

Earlier reports indicated that one possible candidate could be Shanghai Municipal Committee United Front Work Department Director Sha Hailin (沙海林), also one of 2,287 official delegates to the 19th Party Congress. The former PRC Ambassador to Ireland was trained under the United Front Work Department system. Steeped in united front work, Sha is also a seasoned diplomat. He was also Shanghai’s representative to the annual Taipei-Shanghai Forum. Another candidate was former TAO Vice Minister Gong Qinggai (龔清概), before he was swept up by Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign in early 2016. The former vice minister was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption.

According to Taiwan media outlets, two new candidates have emerged as potential candidates to replace Zhang. They are: current PRC Ambassador to the United Nations Liu Jieyi (劉結一) and former CCP Central Committee International Liaison Department Vice Minister Zheng Xiaosong (鄭曉松).

Liu (b. 1957)—who was once before considered the favorite to replace Zhang—is a career diplomat who served extensively within the PRC’s Mission to the United Nations and in other posts within the Foreign Ministry that largely involved North American affairs. In 2009, however, Liu was transferred to serve as vice minister of the CCP International Liaison Department, and in 2013 was appointed the PRC’s ambassador to the United Nations where he currently serves. Yet, Liu’s notable absence from the official list of delegates to the CCP’s 19th Party Congress all but nullifies his candidacy for a senior party position.

Zheng (b. 1959), on the other hand, has been officially listed as a delegate to the 19th Party Congress. Zheng served as deputy director of the CCP Central Committee International Liaison Department from July 2016, where he served until being appointed to his current position as director of the Central People’s Government Liaison Office of the Macao Special Administrative Region (中央人民政府駐澳門特別行政區聯絡辦公室) in September. Before taking on these roles, Zheng worked his way up different government ministries from a secretary in the Foreign Ministry’s general office to a director in the Finance Ministry and executive director for China at the Asian Development Bank (a position appointed by the State Council). Zheng also served in senior Party posts, first as deputy governor of Fujian provincial government and as secretary-general of the Fujian provincial Party committee.

Whether Zhang will be replaced and by whom remain open questions at this point. While the general consensus points to Zhang being replaced, it is still difficult to ascertain by whom. It is likely that the person will fit the pattern of personnel changes in the broader Taiwan policy apparatuses that have taken place over the past year that appear to emphasize expertise in international relations as opposed to the more traditional cross-Strait relations. Indeed, Zhou Zhihuai’s (周志懷) replacement by Yang Mingjie (楊明杰) as head of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, and elder Chinese statesmen Dai Bingguo’s (戴秉國) selection as chairman of the National Society of Taiwan Studies (全國台灣研究會) serve as indicators of this overall shift toward an approach that emphasizes the international factors influencing cross-Strait relations.

The main point: If Zhang is replaced, it will likely be sometime after the Party Congress and before the next CCP Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group meeting to be held early 2018. A new appointment will likely fit the pattern of personnel changes in the broader Taiwan policy apparatuses that have taken place over the past year, which have emphasized international as opposed to cross-Strait relations expertise.

Correction: An earlier version of this brief incorrectly noted that the TAO director is on the official list of delegates to the 19th Party Congress provided by Xinhua News Agency. The Zhang Zhijun (same characters) on that list is in fact the party-secretary of Baishan city (白山市) in Jilin province.

TPOF Poll: Public Support for Smaller Political Parties Drops

On September 17, the independent Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (台灣民意教育基金會) released an opinion poll that measured public support for the political parties in Taiwan. Among 1,074 respondents, the poll indicated that 30.2 percent supported the ruling-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), 18.9 percent the Nationalist Party (KMT), 6.4 percent the New Power Party (NPP), 2.9 percent the People’s First Party (PFP), 2.0 percent supported other parties, and 1.4 percent said that they did not know, whereas 38.2 percent indicated that they did not support any political party.

The poll tracked public support for the political parties over a one-year period in four intervals, starting from July 2016, November 2016, February, 2017 and September 2017. According to polling data, support for the DPP has remained at about the same level since July 2016—two months after the Tsai administration came into office—clocking in originally at 30.4 percent and ending at 30.2 percent. Support for the Nationalist Party increased slightly, rising from 16.0 percent to 18.9 percent.

Interestingly, public support for the two smaller parties has dropped significantly since July 2016. The PFP, which is part of the pan-Blue coalition and headed by James Soong (宋楚瑜), dropped from 7.0 percent to 2.9 percent. The NPP, which was formed by leaders of the Sunflower movement and seen as part of the pan-Green coalition, dropped from 14.9 percent to 6.4 percent. The precipitous decrease in public support of the two smaller parties notably did not appear to translate to stronger support for the two main political parties. Instead, it appears to be correlated to the significant 16.1 percent increase in respondents who indicated that they did not support any specific party, a number commensurate with the decrease in public support experienced by the two smaller political parties combined.  

According to one expert, the polls indicate that the smaller political parties are at risk of marginalization. While decreasing support for the two political parties appears to support this observation, the significant increase in non-support for any of the parties in the same poll (from 22 percent to 38.2 percent) suggests that the Taiwan population does not foreclose an alternative to the two major political parties. Another poll conducted by the Foundation in the same series indicated that Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who is an independent, enjoys a high popularity rating. Specifically, Ko scored 66.75 on the “feeling thermometer,” which is gauged between zero and 100.

Modeled after the Pew Research Center, the Foundation was established in February 2016 as a non-profit, non-governmental, and non-partisan think tank. According to its website, the organization was started by famous author Chien Zhi-zhong (簡志忠) and former lawmaker Chien Hsi-chieh (簡錫堦). The chairman is You Ying-lung (游盈隆).

The main point: There has been a significant decrease in public support for the two smaller parties included in the poll. The drop in their support did not carry over to greater support for the two main political parties. Instead, the percentage of respondents who indicated that they did not support any specific party increased significantly: from 22.1 percent to 38.2 percent.