Russell Hsiao is the executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the editor-in-chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
PBSC Member Wang Yang to become CPPCC Chairman and in Charge of United Front Work
The official list of members to the 13th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was recently released by Chinese authorities. Among the political, social, and business elites that make up the advisory body, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee Member Wang Yang (汪洋) was on the list of CPPCC members. As the 4th ranked Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member, Wang is all but officially confirmed as the next chairman of the CPPCC to replace outgoing Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲) in March, during the two meetings of the legislative-body National People’s Congress (NPC) and the CPPCC. As CPPCC chairman, like his predecessor, Wang will be the PBSC member with the portfolio for United Front work and he will become the deputy director in the policy-setting CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group (TALSG).
A key concept in Chinese foreign policy that integrates party and state organizations under CCP rule is the United Front (統一戰線). While United Front work is more commonly associated with the short-lived collaboration between the Nationalist Party (KMT, Kuomintang) and the CCP against Japan during the Sino-Japanese War, which then the CCP directed against Taiwan in the its efforts to subvert KMT’s rule over the island post-1949, the CCP’s United Front work has evolved over time and is no longer limited to Taiwan.
As highlighted by Anne Marie-Brady’s study Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping, China’s “attempts to guide, buy, or coerce political influence abroad” is also impacting countries like Australia, New Zealand, and other states in Europe. According to Marie-Brady: “China’s foreign influence activities are part of a global strategy with almost identical, longstanding approaches, adapted to fit current government policies. They are a core task of China’s United Front work; one of the CCP’s famed “magic weapons” (法宝) that helped bring it to power.”
CPPCC as a Tool for United Front Work
The 13th CPPCC is composed of 2,158 diverse members and it is headed by a chairperson and nearly two-dozen vice chairpersons. The chairperson of the CPPCC has always been a senior member of the CCP to underscore the leadership of the Party over all of Chinese society.
The CPPCC is the highest-level entity overseeing the United Front system. The CPPCC is a senior consultative body that exercises “democratic supervision” over non-CCP parties, mass organizations, and prominent personalities. It promotes political unity and social stability through controlled representation in China’s political, economic, social, and cultural lives.
As such, the composition of the CPPCC is represented by CCP-aligned political parties (e.g., Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League, Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang), people’s organizations, and sectors. The CPPCC’s function is that of an advisory role, that not only provides recommendations for government policy, but perhaps more importantly for its convening function, by which, policies set by the CCP are disseminated to all the social groups represented in the advisory body.
It is worth noting that the Conference was originally set up as a dialogue mechanism between the Nationalist Party and the CPP for discussion over the sharing of power after World War II. Its meetings are usually held in tandem with the legislative body, the National People’s Congress. Given its convening function, the CCP’s control of political parties, organizations, and sectors through the Conference and its special committees serve an important function in the CCP’s United Front work. Indeed, on January 16, Wang Yang chaired the National United Front Department Directors (全國統戰部長會議) meeting.
CPPCC sub-committees are an important means of coordination within the United Front system. The directors of at least three former key military organizations—General Political Department Liaison Department, General Staff Department Second Department, and Ministry of National Defense Foreign Affairs Office—coordinate foreign influence operations with civilian counterparts through the CPPCC External Friendship Sub-Committee.
The 13th CPPCC will reportedly be composed of former Politburo member Liu Qibao (劉奇葆) and current Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission He Lifeng (何立峰). Among the people slated for the position of vice chairpersons are: Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), Edmund Ho (何厚鏵), and Wan Gang (萬鋼) among others.
Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group
Given the CPPCC’s central role in United Front work and its origins born in the Chinese civil war, it should be no surprise that the CPPCC chairman has also been the number two in the top party-governmental body for developing Taiwan policy: the Central Committee TALSG. The leading small group is directed by the CCP general secretary. The CPPCC Chairman serves as the group’s deputy director, and ministers responsible for Taiwan-related work across party and government agencies are included in the group. Despite Beijing’s freeze of high-level talks on several occasions in 2017, CPPCC members have visited Taiwan to conduct exchanges related to cross-Strait relations. There at least two reported instances when the delegation met with Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chang Hsiao-yueh (張小月).
The main point: As the next CPPCC chairman, Wang Yang is the PBSC member with the portfolio for United Front work and he will become the deputy director in the policy-setting CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group.
Taiwan Deploys Additional Missile Defense to Counter Chinese Military’s Encirclement Campaign
Against the backdrop of a significant uptick in military exercises conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) encircling Taiwan in 2016-17, Taipei is reportedly pushing back and countering with additional deployments of missile defenses along the eastern coast of the island. According to the 2017 National Defense Report released by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) in late December, between August 2016 and December 2017, the MND tracked at least 26 aerial exercises conducted by the Chinese military around Taiwan. Of those exercises, 15 encircled Taiwan, meaning that military aircraft either entered or exited the Bashi channel or near the Ryuku Islands. Similarly, the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) maiden aircraft carrier Liaoning conducted four long-range exercises around Taiwan: two exercises were west of the median-line along the Taiwan Strait, and another two took place along the eastern coast of Taiwan. Exercises encircling Taiwan have become more frequent in recent years, and they have prompted concerns in Taipei about the defense of the island’s eastern flank, which in the past was considered a safe zone due the relative capabilities of the PLA.
Source: Ministry of National Defense of Taiwan (ROC)
The Chinese military exercises are consistent with a pattern of increased military activities by the PLA around and beyond Taiwan that have become more visible since before a decade ago but have also increased in scope and frequency since Tsai Ing-wen became president of Taiwan—suggesting a connection with the rise in cross-Strait political tensions. Indeed, according to former Pentagon official Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, “the PLA has a history of using airpower as an instrument of coercive persuasion against Taiwan. The PLAAF began flights over the Taiwan Strait in 1996, and extended operations to the centerline in 1999.” Furthermore, he added that, “diminishing Taiwan’s air space would play into its strategic objectives and claims over disputed territories in the region.” Taken in their totality, the substantial increase as well as frequency of exercises, may be seen as a form of enhanced coercive diplomacy to compel a change in the status quo.
According to a senior Taiwanese official, the intent behind these exercises is to send a political message that these areas constitute its [China’s] “internal waters” (內海). The Chinese military views the conduct of military exercises over disputed territories ostensibly as a demonstration of its sovereignty.
In an apparent response to growing concerns over these aggressive behaviors, Taiwan’s MND announced that it will extend the defense perimeter of its existing missile defense system by deploying additional missile defenses on Orchid Island (蘭嶼) and Green Island (綠島). The two islands are located off the eastern coast of Taiwan near the southern tip. Taiwan already possesses a robust network of missile defenses along its western coast facing the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Yet, its eastern coast has been left relatively undefended and equipped with older models of missiles with shorter ranges due to the PLA’s previously limited capabilities. For instance, even the Hua-tung Defense Command (花東防衛指揮部), which covers the areas spanning Hualien and Taitung counties, reportedly only has one mobile Avenger Air Defense Unit.
To cover these blind spots in Taiwan’s defense perimeter, the MND announced that it will deploy MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missiles on Orchid Island and Green Island, which will also be supported by additional MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missiles and indigenously produced Sky Bow-III (天弓三) surface-to-air anti-ballistic missiles in Hualien, Taitung alongside existing deployments in Yilan. Orchid Island is around 50 miles from Taitung city, and future Chinese military aircraft flying similar patterns could fall within range of these missiles. This will ostensibly release the constant pressure and enormous costs on the Taiwan Air Force of having to constantly scramble sorties to respond to these incursions.
The main point: In an apparent response to growing concerns over Chinese military exercises around Taiwan, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has decided to extend its existing missile defense system with the deployment of additional missile defenses on Orchid Island and Green Island.