The Cross-Strait “Status Quo” after the 19th CCP Congress
In mid-October, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its long-awaited 19th Party Congress. The Party Congress is convened every five years and represents a carefully engineered intra-Party deliberative process that determines the party’s senior leaders and orchestrates the broad principles that will guide national policy making in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the next five years and beyond. Considered among the PRC’s core interests, policy towards Taiwan did not escape the Party Congress’s attention.
Xi is the strongest leader to rule the PRC since patriarch Deng Xiaoping, who proposed the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that remains Xi’s model for unification with Taiwan. Close observers of cross-Strait relations have been waiting for Xi to make his mark on the country’s policy towards Taiwan since he became CCP general secretary in 2012. While relations between Taipei and Beijing have thawed in the past decade—epitomized by the meeting between Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in Singapore on November 7, 2015—the two sides have struggled to find a new and more sustainable equilibrium between Xi and the newly elected president of Taiwan, in large part due to Beijing’s refusal to engage in dialogue, despite Tsai’s repeated entreaties for the resumption of high-level talks, and openness to new models of engagement.
In the lead up to the 19th Party Congress, US officials called on all sides to “demonstrate patience, flexibility and creativity” in conducting cross-Strait relations. While President Tsai Ing-wen has committed to conducting her administration’s relations with the PRC based on the Taiwan (ROC) Constitution, the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, and acknowledged the fact of the 1992 meetings, Beijing has insisted that Tsai must accept the so-called “1992 Consensus” and the PRC’s “One China” principle as preconditions for the resumption of high-level dialogue.
Some analysts believe that Xi’s heavy-handed approach, which includes diplomatic, economic, and military coercion in dealing with Tsai were a result of his need to appear strong ahead of the 19th Party Congress. Whatever hope remained that Xi would demonstrate patience, flexibility, or creativity in the work report, in order to turn over a new leaf on the CCP’s antiquated Taiwan policy was dashed in his epically long-winded work report delivered at the 19th Party Congress. The section on Taiwan in Xi’s report was brief but his points were clear.
In less than 300 characters in a report comprised of 32,000 Chinese characters, Xi laid out his guidance on Taiwan work, strongly avowing that:
We will resolutely uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity and will never tolerate a repeat of the historical tragedy of a divided country. All activities of splitting the motherland will be resolutely opposed by all the Chinese people. We have firm will, full confidence, and sufficient capability to defeat any form of Taiwan independence secession plot. We will never allow any person, any organization, or any political party to split any part of the Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form.
These statements do not indicate a new policy per se. Despite some notable differences pointed out by experts that suggest a hardening line, Xi’s pronouncements broadly track with previous positions taken by his and his predecessors’ administrations. More specifically, they track with approaches that the PRC has taken against the previous DPP administration (2000-2008)—which, in Beijing’s perspective, were successful in driving a wedge between Taipei and Washington.
On October 26, President Tsai delivered her administration’s response to Xi’s work report at a forum organized by the Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies (亞太和平研究基金會), sponsored by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the cabinet-level agency responsible for implementing the government’s policy towards China.
At the Symposium on the 30th Anniversary of Cross-Strait Exchanges: Review and Outlook, Tsai celebrated 30 years of achievements after the opening up of cross-Strait exchanges with Taiwan’s lifting of martial law in 1987. In her speech, Tsai noted how after the “[Taiwan] government established the Mainland Affairs Council and Straits Exchange Foundation in 1991, and passed the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area in 1992, cross-Strait exchanges gradually gained semi-official, and then official status.” Tsai acknowledged the significance of the 1992 meetings, which had launched a series of institutionalized cross-Strait discussions in the 1990s, and contributed to the signing of 23 cross-Strait accords between 2008 and 2016, and explicitly affirmed that “The DPP government respects these historical facts, and generally accepts all the cross-Strait accords that have been signed and ratified by the legislature.”
In an opinion poll released by MAC on November 3, conducted between October 27 and 31, 88.6 percent of respondents supported the idea that leaders in Taiwan and China should find new ways to interact; 76.2 percent of respondents believe that there should be no preconditions to cross-Strait talks; 73.9 percent believe that Beijing should accept the fact that the ROC is a sovereign country; and 64.2 percent of respondents believe that Beijing should stop restricting cross-Strait exchanges and conducting military exercises against Taiwan; 85.2 percent of respondents advocate broadly maintaining the status quo; and 70.3 percent of respondents support President Tsai’s principles for cross-Strait relations based on the mantra that “we will not change our goodwill, our commitments, nor will we revert to the old path of confrontation.”
Providing the first public statement from a senior Party official at a major cross-Strait forum during the “new era” (新時期) of the Xi administration’s Taiwan policy, the outgoing chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲), spoke at the 2017 Cross-Strait CEO Summit (CSCS, 2017兩岸企業家紫金山峰會) in Nanjing on November 7. The first such summit was held in 2008. Seven hundred business leaders from Taiwan and China reportedly gathered and inked a whopping total of 29 agreements and memoranda of understanding (MOUs). The participants from Taiwan reportedly included many major business tycoons as well as former Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長).
In his keynote speech, Yu highlighted four drivers of Taiwan work in this “new era,” which include 1) continue promoting peaceful development and unification in cross-Strait relations; 2) unwaveringly adhere to the “One China” principle and the 1992 consensus; 3) clearly and resolutely oppose any attempts to split Taiwan (from China) in any form; and 4) enthusiastically strive to execute the important concept of “two sides, one family” (兩岸一家親).
The main point: In the aftermath of the 19th CCP Congress, Xi Jinping appears to be hardening Beijing’s line on Taiwan, as Taipei and Beijing continue to struggle to find a new and sustainable equilibrium. In contrast, public opinion in Taiwan appears to support a new model for cross-Strait relations.
Rise of Transnational Crime Highlights Need for Closer Law Enforcement Cooperation with Taiwan
From October 31 to November 1, the Ministry of Justice’s Investigation Bureau (MJIB)—Taiwan’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation—hosted the 2017 Taiwan-West Asia Conference in Taipei. The biennial conference, entitled “Regional Security and Transnational Crime,” has been held since 2013. This year’s conference was attended by 155 law enforcement and national security officials as well as experts from across 33 countries from the Middle East and Indo-Asia-Pacific. In his welcome message, MJIB Director-General Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥) neatly captured the issues that the conference meant to cover:
With rapid technological developments, the geographical boundaries in traditional national security defense have gradually disappeared as virtual attacks and lone wolf terrorist attacks have replaced real, large-scale wars. Today, transnational criminal syndicates have connected and allied with international terrorist organizations in an evident threat to national security and to international justice. The impact of these threats extends beyond security, accelerating efforts to strengthen cooperation.
Indeed, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, in September claimed that drugs carried by an international criminal network based in Taiwan was a major source of illegal narcotics coming into the archipelago. Specifically, Duterte—infamously known for his signature bloody war on drugs—called out the 14K and United Bamboo Gang (竹聯幫), two international criminal enterprises based in Hong Kong and Taiwan, respectively, for smuggling drugs into the Philippines and using it for transshipments to the US market.
Duterte asserted: “The Philippines today is a client state of the Bamboo Triad [United Bamboo], they have taken over the operations,” adding that “they [triads] have decided to go international. Philippines is a transshipment of shabu to America and it behooves upon America to work closely with the Republic of the Philippines especially on this serious matter.”
Perhaps more revealing of the growing threat posed by transnational criminal enterprises, the Philippine president made a further claim that United Bamboo had given the Islamist terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, a franchise in the Philippines. While it is not clear what he precisely meant by a “franchise,” according to the Philippines military, Abu Sayyaf has been involved in the drug trade to fund their terrorist operations—so a franchise could, in theory, reasonably mean that the terrorist group profits from the criminal network’s illicit activities in the Philippines. Although Abu Sayyaf’s scope of operations has been limited to the Philippines, there are concerns that the group could be supporting terrorist activities by other Islamic State-linked groups in the region.
While Taiwan’s representative office in the Philippines was, at first, defensive of the reported allegations made by the Philippine president, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Manila, Gary Song-Huann Lin (林松煥), acknowledged that criminals from Taiwan do, in fact, serve as “drivers” and “drug engineers” for transnational drug trafficking, but he highlighted long-term and continuing efforts by law enforcement authorities within the two countries in combating international drug traffickers such as the United Bamboo Gang.
With the rise of transnational crimes perpetrated by international criminal networks, law enforcement agencies increasingly need to rely on access to and cooperation from other countries to conduct criminal investigations. The legal process by which law enforcement agencies formally cooperate in obtaining evidence and assist one another with a criminal investigation is through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty/Agreement (MLAT/MLAA).
Taiwan and the Philippines signed an MLAA in 2013. Since its inception, there have been a total of 22 requests made by both sides with only 10 requests completed. According to data obtained from the Ministry of Justice, of those requests, only one of the 13 requests made by Taiwan had been completed as of May 16, 2017. Whereas all nine requests made by the authorities in the Philippines had been completed by the authorities in Taiwan. By way of comparison, the United States and Taiwan signed an MLAA in 2002. The two sides have already enjoyed 15 years of cooperation experience. In those 15 years, the two sides have submitted a total of 200 requests, of which 180 have already been completed.
The high completion rate demonstrates the capacity and efficiency of the MLAA process between the United States and Taiwan. While countries’ relationships with one another vary, creating a more unified protocol can help streamline cooperation and make mutual legal assistance more efficient between law enforcement agencies when combatting transnational crime.
The main point: Against the backdrop of the rise in transnational crime that may be financing terrorist activities, effective law enforcement depends on timely access to and the sharing of information. Formal mechanisms, such as MLAAs, are necessary to facilitate reciprocal relationships. The United States and Taiwan should consider using the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF) to build up the capacity of law enforcement agencies of Southeast Asia and South Asia in streamlining procedures for requesting and providing mutual legal assistance.
 This brief is based in part on the author’s presentation at the 2017 Taiwan-West Asia Conference, which will be published in a forthcoming report on Mutual Legal Assistance in the Digital Age and Taiwan’s Southbound Policy (hereafter forthcoming report).
 Conference handout
 Conference handout
 Author’s forthcoming report.