Russell Hsiao is the executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the editor-in-chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
CCP Central Committee’s 2018 Taiwan Affairs Meeting Affirms Xi’s “Soft-Hard” Approach
On February 2-3, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its annual Taiwan policy conclave in Beijing. The CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Affairs Meeting (中共中央對台工作會議)—chaired by State Councilor and freshly minted CCP Politburo member Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪)—was attended by the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), Deputy Director Liu Jieyi (劉結一), and other senior members of the Party’s Taiwan-policy making apparatus. Most notably, PBSC member and Vice Premier Wang Yang made his debut in the meeting and gave the opening remark. Wang’s appearance at the event further underscores his position as the successor to outgoing Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲). In the same role as head of the advisory body CPPCC, Yu served as deputy to General Secretary Xi Jinping in the policy-setting CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Affairs Leading Small Group (TALSG), and had attended all the previous CCP Central Committee Taiwan Affairs Meetings since 2013 (after his predecessor Jia Qinglin (賈慶林) retired).
The CCP Central Committee’s Taiwan Affairs Meeting of early February, is the first held event since the 19th CCP National Congress last October, where senior Party cadres of the 19th CCP Congress were first unveiled. The meeting is an important indicator of how the Party will implement the guidance laid out by Xi during his epic three-hours long speech. In his opening remarks at the Taiwan Affairs meeting, PBSC member Wang affirmed the continuation of Beijing’s two-pronged “soft-hard” strategy of using both hard and soft measures against Taiwan. Following the monotone drub of other Chinese officials, Wang pointed out how the situation in the Taiwan Strait is becoming more complex and severe and that the Party’s Taiwan work, now and for a period of time, faces challenges and risks.
For the ‘hard’ component of the “soft-hard” strategy, Wang insisted that the CCP must uphold the “One-China principle” and the so-called “1992 consensus,” and resolutely oppose and contain any form of Taiwan secession. Specifically, Wang reportedly stated that, “[w]e [CCP] should remain true to our original aspiration, keep our mission firmly in mind, and fully implement the CCP Central Committee’s decisions and plans [for Taiwan affairs] in a spirit of ‘time and tide wait for no man; seize the day, seize the hour’ [emphasis added].” According to Taiwan’s former Straits Exchange Foundation chairman under the first DPP administration, Hong Chi-chang (洪奇昌), the meaning of Wang’s statements indicates that, “[a]part from firm opposition to and deterrence of Taiwanese independence, China can be expected to focus more on its unilateral initiatives when pushing for unification.”
For the ‘soft’ element of the “soft-hard” strategy, Wang stated Beijing’s intention to expand cross-Strait economic and cultural cooperation; continue to deepen the development of cross-Strait economic and social integration; gradually give equal treatment to Taiwan nationals studying, starting businesses, working, and living in the People’s Republic of China (PRC); and encourage people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to promote Chinese culture and their “spiritual affinity.” According to Chao Chun-Shan (趙春山), former chairman of the Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies (亞太和平研究基金會) under Ma Ying-jeou, the policy focus of this year’s Taiwan Affairs meeting may be summarized as: “oppose independence; promote unification; do many things at once; push harder and be softer” (反獨促統、齊頭並進、硬的更硬、軟的更軟). Furthermore, Chao added that following personnel changes in the PRC’s Taiwan policy apparatus in March, it is unlikely that there will any dramatic changes in cross-Strait relations for the near term. The key, according to Chao, is for Beijing to maintain the current cross-Strait condition of “competition but not fracture” (鬥而不破) relation with Taiwan, which entails pushing as hard as it can without letting relations break down, while also being soft without losing its leverage. Chao explained that since this is an election year in Taiwan, neither side will want to have surprises that will influence the election or succession arrangements, therefore cross-Strait relations will be in a state of “cold peace” (冷和平) and neither Beijing nor Taipei will want to raise it to a state of “hot conflict” (熱衝突).
Consistent with prior analysis about the trend in Beijing’s policy towards the Tsai government, the meeting does not indicate a change in the CCP’s approach, much less its policy towards Taiwan. It is clear now that Beijing will continue its “soft-hard” approach against Taiwan, which will be a combination of enticing Taiwanese youths, businesses, and aligned-political actors, while continuing to diminish Taiwan’s international space and maintaining its coercive military activities. More troubling for the future of cross-Strait relations is that the Xi administration appears increasingly bent on simply waiting out the administration of Tsai Ing-wen. In the near term, however, given that it is an election year, Beijing may be unwilling to take any further drastic measures to upset the delicate relation with Taiwan. All the while, the Tsai administration has steadfastly maintained its commitment to preserve the “status quo,” so the possibility of a major break in cross-Strait relations will be unlikely in 2018, barring further actions from Beijing.
The main point: The CCP Central Committee’s 2018 Taiwan Affairs Meeting confirms that Beijing will continue its “soft-hard” approach against Taiwan, which will likely include a combination of enticing Taiwanese youths, businesses, and aligned-political actors, while continuing to diminish Taiwan’s international space and intensifying its coercive military activities.
Taiwan Quietly Enhances International Space with Military Veteran Diplomacy
While China continues to squeeze Taiwan’s international space with its coercive pressure campaign, Taipei is quietly enhancing the country’s international presence by alternate means. One of these methods is through military veteran diplomacy. Indeed, the current minister of Taiwan’s Veterans Affairs Council (VAC, 國軍退除役官兵輔導委員會)—a cabinet-level organization under the Executive Yuan, similar to the US Department of Veterans Affairs—made an unprecedented visit to Japan and Indonesia in December 2017.
VAC Minister Lee Hsiang-chou’s (李翔宙), who served as the director of the National Security Bureau (NSB) under Ma Ying-jeou, visited Japan and Indonesia between December 20 and 27. Lee’s trip to Japan was at the invitation of the Self-Defense Force Friendship Association (隊友會), a non-governmental organization with an influential members-based group composed of many retired senior Japanese military officers. The chairman of the organization is General (ret.) Yuji Fujinawa (藤繩祐爾) and its president is General (ret.) Hajime Massaki (先崎一)—both four-star generals. It is worth noting that Fujinawa served as Chairman of the Joint Staff Council of the Japan Self-Defense Forces from 1999-2001, and Massaki was the 28th Chief of Staff of the Ground Self-Defense Force. While in Japan, Minister Lee reportedly had other meetings, but those were kept relatively low-key to avoid China’s interference. Lee’s quiet diplomacy was aimed ostensibly to ‘test the waters’ for a possible increase of dialogue and exchanges between veteran organizations of the two countries.
Besides the VAC minister’s meeting with the SDF Friendship Association, Lee also visited the ROC Veterans Association in Japan (日本榮光聯誼會). Established in 1974, ROC Veterans Associations (榮光聯誼會) are located worldwide to provide a platform for its military veterans who have settled abroad, and give them access to services and benefits provided by the government. According to the VAC’s website, there are currently 43 veteran associations worldwide (20 chapters are in the United States) with an estimate of 7,125 members. Minister Lee’s visit to the chapter in Japan, the first one ever established by the VAC, is the first time that a current minister of the council visited the organization since its creation. A less sensitive affair, the VAC minister’s also visited the ROC Veterans Association in Indonesia (印尼榮光聯誼會) where he gave a public speech about the Tsai administration’s New Southbound Policy.
Revelation of Minister Lee’s unprecedented visit to Japan and Indonesia follows other international engagements between the VAC and military veteran groups of other countries, particularly the United States, that highlight the multi-pronged efforts of the Tsai administration to bolster the country’s international space in the face of Beijing’s pressure campaign. As a result of China’s intensifying strategy against Taiwan, these efforts to increase Taiwan’s international presence are complemented by the US government’s initiative to remove some self-imposed restrictions on high-level contacts between US and Taiwan officials, such as through the Taiwan Travel Act, among others. At the same time, Japan has also made similar moves, by lifting self-imposed restrictions on its contacts with Taiwan.
Yet, in more sensitive areas of cooperation, “non-official” channels of dialogue through Track II channels will still be necessary to avoid China’s political interference. As noted by Yuki Tatsumi, director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center, at a Global Taiwan Institute’s public seminar on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, retired military officers between the United States, Japan, Australia, and Taiwan could provide a channel for an exchange on matters such as multilateral military cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief that would otherwise be too sensitive to undertake in an official setting.
To be clear, Lee’s visit to Japan and Indonesia are not his first foreign visits as VAC minister. It took place after a similar visit that the Minister made to the United States last July for the Veterans of Foreign War’s (VFW) national convention in New Orleans. The VFW is a US non-profit veteran service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members from the active duty, National Guard, and reserve forces. In his speech at the VFW convention, Minister Lee extolled the relationship between VAC and VFW of 37 years, and expressed appreciation for the VFW’s support for Taiwan. The Minister’s July visit to the US was followed by a meeting in September, held in Taipei, of the Asia-Pacific Steering Committee for the international non-profit and non-governmental World Veteran Federation, which since 1951 has consultative status with the United Nations. Japan reportedly expressed an interest in how Taiwan has treated its veterans and as a result invited Minister Lee to Japan.
The main point: As China continues to squeeze Taiwan’s international space with its coercive pressure campaign, Taipei is quietly enhancing the country’s international role through military veteran diplomacy.