Political Warfare Alert: Cross-Strait Roundtable Forum
On October 29, the All China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots (ACFTC, 中華全國台灣同胞聯誼會)—a United Front affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—and the Taiwan Cross-Strait Roundtable Forum Association (臺灣兩岸圓桌論壇協會) co-organized the inaugural “Cross-Strait Roundtable Forum” (兩岸民間圓桌論壇) in Beijing. The self-styled civilian (民間) forum, which was held under the banner of “integrating development, mutual benefit and win-win result” (融合發展、互利共贏), was reportedly attended by more than 150 people from Taiwan’s civic associations with Chinese counterparts to discuss issues ranging from strengthening cross-Strait industry, trade, culture, film, and youth cooperation. High-level participants included Taiwan’s former economic minister, Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘), and deputy director of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Chen Yuanfeng (陳元豐), among others. The purpose of the Forum was ostensibly to promote the implementation of Beijing’s “31 Measures” and discuss ways to strengthen industrial cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In his opening keynote, ACFTC Chairman Huang Zhixian (黃志賢) stated that the foundation for cross-Strait peaceful development and its power stem from the people. According to Huang, the Forum will become a platform for cross-Strait exchanges that promote policies on the basis of the so-called “1992 Consensus,” which is based on the “One-China Principle.” The chairman of the Taiwan Cross-Strait Roundtable Forum Association, Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀), said that the relationship between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait cannot be stopped. The former deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council—a cabinet level agency in charge of implementing policies toward China—agreed that the key to cross-Strait communication and dialogue is to adhere to the “1992 Consensus.” Chang resigned as deputy minister in 2014 over allegations that he leaked confidential information and on suspicion of espionage. Formal charges were never filed.
The Forum participants reportedly committed to six joint initiatives. In addition to promoting the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, the two sides committed to actively implement the “31 Measures,” which was announced by the TAO back in February, and realize the equal treatment of Taiwan compatriots in China. On economic exchanges and cooperation, the two sides committed to assist Taiwanese enterprises in participating in the 13th Five-Year Plan for social and economic development and the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative.
The six joint initiatives include commitments to deepen cross-Strait industrial cooperation and innovation, assisting Taiwanese enterprises in industrial transformation and upgrade, and actively expanding Taiwan’s agricultural and fishery products in China, and promoting Chinese culture. The initiatives include cooperation on youth exchanges and Forum participants agreed to set up more platforms for cross-Strait youth exchanges. Most notably, the two sides agreed to broaden cross-Strait television and film exchange, and promote the co-production of film and television dramas. Groups attending the forum from the two sides signed the “Cross-Strait Joint Filming of Drama Cooperation Agreement” (兩岸互拍戲劇合作協議), in which they agreed to jointly produce and shoot two dramas scheduled to be completed by June 2019. The names of the two films are “Good morning, Captain” (早安機長先生) and “The Knot” (雲水謠), each with 20 and 30 episodes, respectively, and will be screened in both Taiwan and China. Taiwan is scheduled to have a general election in 2020.
Formed in 1981 following the normalization of relations between Washington and Beijing, the ACFTC is part of the CCP’s United Front system. As noted in a declassified CIA study “the Chinese began to increase the emphasis on united front operations early in 1978 and intensified them after the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and the United States.” The ACFTC promotes cross-Strait unification among Taiwanese individuals and groups in China and abroad. United Front activities are also used to highlight the ethnic and cultural affinity between the people of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait for the purpose of narrowing the “us” versus “them” mentality resulting from decades of political indoctrination. More notably, however, is that this campaign presents China as Taiwan’s natural partner for cultural and ethnic reasons—not the United States despite the two countries’ shared values of democracy and human rights. While self-described as a civilian group, ACFTC, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Political Department—which is now under the Central Military Commission—and the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office have cooperated on Taiwan-related propaganda efforts since 2002. As the aforementioned CIA study pointed out: “Propaganda directed to Taiwan reports extensively on the activities of persons of Taiwan origin in China.”
Huang Zhixian has been in his post as ACFTC chairman for almost a year and is also affiliated with the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League (TDSGL, 台灣民主自治同盟), which he served as deputy chairman from 2015-2017. TDSGL is a nominally independent political group that is permitted to operate by the CCP. Huang replaced Wang Yifu (汪毅夫) in December 2017, who served as head of the ACFTC from 2012-2017 and is now deputy chairman of the National Society of Taiwan Studies (全國台灣研究會) chaired by senior Chinese statesmen Dai Bingguo (戴秉國). Huang is concurrently a deputy secretary-general of the advisory body Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and also deputy chairman of the Across the Strait Taiwanese Exchange Association (兩岸台胞民間交流促進會), an exchange platform established by the TDSGL. The CPPCC is the highest-level entity overseeing the United Front system and 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. Huang became president of the ACFTC at its 10th Congress held in December 2017. The organization is composed of a 100-member council and a 33-member standing committee.
At a seminar commemorating the three year anniversary of the meeting between former Presidents Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in Singapore back in 2015, the former president of Taiwan re-emphasized the importance of the so-called “1992 Consensus,” and claimed that maintaining the “status quo” under the principle of “not against unification, no independence, and no use of force” would be in the best interest of Taiwan. In response to Ma’s comments, President Tsai Ing-wen said: “Three years after that meeting, the new “three noes” proposal represents an even greater compromise toward China. […] It seriously hurts Taiwan’s sovereignty and sends a wrong message to the international community that Taiwan will yield to Chinese suppression at a time when China has spared no effort to bully Taiwan.”
The main point: A month before Taiwan’s local elections, the All China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots, a United Front organization, and the Taiwan Cross-Strait Roundtable Forum Association set up by a former senior official co-organized the inaugural “Cross-Strait Roundtable Forum” in Beijing to promote cross-Strait unification.
PRC Taiwan Affairs Office Chief Urges Taiwanese Businessmen to Return to Taiwan to Vote in Local Elections
Against the backdrop of increasing evidence that China is interfering in Taiwan’s political process, a senior Chinese official is encouraging Taiwanese businessmen in China to go back to Taiwan to vote in the island’s upcoming local elections. While participating in a symposium organized by The Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland (ATIEM, 大陸全國台企聯), the director of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), Liu Jieyi (劉結一), reportedly said that “this idea is very well said.” As another sign that Beijing is ramping up its influence operations against Taiwan, at the symposium attended by many ATIEM executives and Chinese officials held in Hunan province on October 29, the TAO director highlighted how Beijing is looking out for Taiwanese business interests amidst the US-China trade war. “Taiwanese businessmen and Taiwan compatriots must have confidence. The mainland [sic] has a very large market. Taiwan-funded enterprises can rely on the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy to continue business development on the mainland [sic],” Liu reportedly said.
The TAO—which is in charge of implementing Beijing’s Taiwan policy—has kept a low profile before the upcoming local election, which will be held in less than two weeks on November 24. Yet, the annual forum, which is typically held during the lunar new year, was moved up to before the local elections ostensibly on purpose. ATIEM’s President Wang Pingsheng (王屏生), 18 executive vice presidents, 15 district presidents, and heads of 150 local Taiwan business associations attended the forum. Additionally, the directors and relevant responsible persons of the Taiwan Affairs Offices from 39 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities) and deputy provincial cities also attended.
Founded in 2007, ATIEM is a business association consisting of around 300 Taiwanese-funded enterprises and their members in China. The organization acts as a lobby group for Taiwanese businesses both in China and in Taiwan. According to a 2012 investigative report by Reuters, ATIEM previously tried unsuccessfully to lobby the Taiwan government to overturn a rule that bars citizens of Taiwan from taking positions in state or party bodies in China.
Describing the current cross-Strait situation as very serious and highlighting the importance of Taiwan’s upcoming local election, ATIEM President Wang stated that: “Not only will I go back [to Taiwan] to vote, but I call on millions of Taiwanese businessmen to go back to vote.” Li Zhenghong (李政宏), president of the Shanghai ATIEM, pointed out that the Taiwan government should help Taiwanese businesses take advantage of the huge opportunities presented by the Chinese market. “This time, every Taiwanese businessmen-friend around me has already bought a ticket and are going back [to vote],” said Ding Yuhua (丁鯤華), the honorary president of ATIEM. Ding added that Taiwanese businessmen have been awakened and will no longer be silent. Voting in the election is not only a matter of letting their voice be heard but to exert influence. “[The number of people] going back to vote will be much more than in 2016,” Ding said.
While voter turnout in Taiwan’s general election is relatively high, they are lower for local elections—so high voter turnout could have an impact. With an estimated one million Taiwanese working and living in China, a quarter million of Taiwanese residents in China reportedly voted in the country’s 2012 presidential election. In 2016, an estimated 100,000 Taiwanese businessmen voted. To encourage more voters to go back to vote, 12 airlines from Taiwan and China such as Air China, China Southern Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Chunqiu, and Jixiang are reportedly offering discounts as much as 25 percent off for people traveling from China to Taiwan during the elections. For instance, a roundtrip ticket for Shanghai-Taipei was priced only at NT$5,000 (US$ 162.40).
At another business forum held also in late October in Nanning, around 100 Taiwanese entrepreneurs attended the 14th Guangxi-Taiwan Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum to explore the investment environment in the Guangxi autonomous region. According to Wang, ATIEM’s president, Taiwanese businesses see Guangxi as a springboard to access the markets of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. One of the attendees from Taiwan, Chan Huo-sheng (詹火生), chairman of the Cross-Strait Common Market Foundation (兩岸共同市場基金會), said that strengthening industrial cooperation between Taiwan and Guangxi could help Taiwanese businessmen more fully participate in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
The main point: As US-China trade war heats up, Beijing is ramping its influence activities by encouraging Taiwanese businessmen to vote in the upcoming local elections as some Taiwanese businesses look to Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative for relief.