On October 18, General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered his work report to the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Taiwan policy section of the 19th Congress report did not portend any significant change in policy direction for Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan. It indicated that Taiwan policy is not an urgent priority issue for General Secretary Xi Jinping and is likely to remain a lower priority so long as President Tsai Ing-wen continues not to explicitly reject Beijing’s “One-China” principle.
The Congress report said that Beijing’s goal would continue to be promoting the complete unification of the country through the policies of “peaceful unification” and “one country, two systems.” That was entirely as expected. However, the report failed to reaffirm former General Secretary Jiang Zemin’s Eight Points. That was an unusual omission. Jiang’s Eight Points had been mentioned in each previous Party Congress report since it was first issued over 20 years ago. Given the thoroughness with which Congress reports are drafted—this could not be an inadvertent omission.
Jiang’s Eight Points were contained in the message “Continue to Promote the Reunification of the Motherland” (為促進祖國統一大業的完成而繼續奮鬥) issued on January 30, 1995. As Jiang Zemin was then the CCP general secretary and the document included eight points, it became known informally as Jiang’s Eight Points. The document is important because it is the most authoritative statement of the content of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” (一國兩制) framework for Taiwan’s “reunification” with China. It was issued at the time of the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Shimonoseki and when Beijing hoped that the reversion of Hong Kong in 1997 and of Macau in 1999 would lead to progress towards Taiwan’s unification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Eight Points were a subject of some controversy at the time. Those who favored a hard line toward then President Lee Teng-hui questioned the wisdom of making what some considered overly generous terms for reunification.
It is not clear to the author why the usual reference to the Eight Points was not included. It is possible it reflected strains in Xi’s relations with Jiang, who has sought to continue exercising influence at a time when Xi is demanding loyalty. Xi undoubtedly believes he is a more important leader, as was reflected in Xi’s thought being incorporated in the Party Constitution. Omitting the Eight Points can be seen as a way of diminishing Jiang’s importance in shaping cross-Strait policy in the new Xi era.
Another possible explanation is that the leadership believed it was not appropriate to include a reference to an official document addressing unification terms at a time when Beijing’s most urgent concern is to deter the DPP administration from steps toward de jure independence. The 19th Congress report also omitted the 18th Congress report’s call for political talks, reportedly in recognition that there was no prospect for such talks with Taipei under President Tsai Ing-wen. If this was the case, then it is possible that the Eight Points will reappear when the prospects for political talks on “reunification” again exist.
A further explanation may be that the leadership believes that circumstances have changed decisively since 1995. China’s economic, diplomatic and military powers are vastly stronger. Therefore, in the “New era of socialism with Chinese characteristics” (新時代中國特色社會主義思想), Beijing has the ability to play a more confident and assertive role in shaping events. In these new circumstances, the relatively generous offer made in 1995 may no longer be seen as appropriate. If this is the case, the omission should be read as a sign that the Eight Points are dead.
Most often there is more than one reason for a critical decision. The omission of the Eight Points probably reflects a combination of these three factors. Taken together, they indicate that it is unlikely the Eight Points will reappear in future major documents.
The Eight Points are also important because they were the most authoritative statement of Beijing’s position on post-unification security matters on Taiwan. The document stated that Taiwan “may also maintain its armed forces,” and “the Central Government will not station troops or send administrative personnel there.” These were important ways in which the offer to Taiwan differed from the arrangements for Hong Kong and Macau under the “one country, two systems” framework. Those statements were among the reasons why some thought the Eight Points too generous. As the PLA has become more capable and more ambitious in this century, it has become increasingly doubtful that the military, or the political leadership, would accept such limitations on the PLA.
So if the Eight Points have been consigned to history by Xi Jinping, then Taiwan and the United States will face the prospect that Beijing may eventually demand Taipei’s agreement to stationing the PLA in Taiwan. It is impossible to imagine that any government in Taipei would freely agree to that condition. Consequently, those commitments from the Eight Points are significant and must not be forgotten.
Over the past decade, China and the United States have moved into a strategic competition in the western Pacific. In this context, Beijing should understand that the United States has a vital interest both in the peaceful settlement of cross-Strait issues and in the PLA not being able to project power from bases in Taiwan. If circumstances change and “reunification” becomes a topic for active discussion, the prospect of a PLA presence on Taiwan will emerge as a major issue between the United States and China.
These observations on the Eight Points may seem academic because there is no prospect at present for even preliminary political talks or an interim peace accord let alone progress toward unification between Taiwan and the PRC. Yet, the PLA’s power and ambitions are a reality. Their ambitions may well have contributed to the disappearance of the Eight Points, and the PLA’s more frequent and sophisticated exercises in the western Pacific are a challenge to the United States and a threat to Taiwan. In turn, these exercises are stimulating reactions in Washington including calls for joint US-Taiwan military exercises and reciprocal naval port calls, which Beijing will certainly oppose. All these threads are interrelated and leaders in Washington, Taipei, and Beijing should be prepared for tensions to rise before they cool.
The main point: The omission in the 19th Party Congress report of Jiang’s Eight Points likely indicates that the CCP leadership wishes to forget Jiang’s statement that the PLA would not be stationed in Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” framework. At some future time, the question of PLA forces in Taiwan is likely to emerge as a major issue among Washington, Beijing and Taipei.