8th Yunnan-Taiwan Forum Unveils Scale of China’s Economic Strategy Towards Taiwan
China’s political warfare campaign against the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文, b. 1956) in Taiwan is multifaceted. Beijing’s strategy of coercive persuasion combines a mix of military, political, and economic tools that range from hard to soft measures as well as central to provincial directives. As part of this dual-wielding hard and soft approach, Zhongnanhai has conducted increased military exercises around the island in recent years while simultaneously propagating a raft of directives aimed at luring more businesses and people from Taiwan into the Chinese market with the explicit purpose of promoting economic and political integration. These initiatives are essentially aimed at applying pressure on the central government in Taiwan from both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Although central-level directives such as the announcement of the “31 Measures” (卅一條措施) in February 2018 gets the most public attention, this whole-of-government strategy is also being coordinated with, reinforced, and amped up at the provincial level. One example is the Yunnan-Taiwan Forum (雲台會)—a provincial forum designed to promote economic integration between the southern province of Yunnan with Taiwan.
On the heels of the just concluded 11th Straits Forum in Xiamen, the 8th Yunnan-Taiwan Forum was held in the southern city of Kunming on June 26. The Forum reportedly attracted around 1,000 attendees. The participants this year included Taiwan’s New Party (新黨) chairman, Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) deputy director, and the new chairman of The Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland (ATIEM), among others. Heralding the Forum as one of the 71 Chinese government-authorized “cross-Strait exchange bases” (海峽兩岸交流基地), the CCP provincial committee’s deputy party-secretary reportedly showcased 13 programs of Taiwan-Yunnan cooperation worth over USD $ 640 million (4.4 billion Chinese Yuan). In 2009, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began establishing these so-called “bases” to promote cross-Strait exchanges at locations throughout China for the purpose of promoting cross-Strait exchanges between the people of Taiwan and China. In 2015, there were only 37, the number nearly doubled in three years.
The Forum was organized by the PRC State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO, 國台辦) and the Yunnan Provincial Government. The deputy director of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), Sun Yafu (孫亞夫, b. 1952)—a semi-official agency of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in charge of conducting relations with Taiwan—gave an opening speech. In his remarks, the deputy director and long-time Taiwan-hand noted how China’s external economic environment has been affected by the US-China trade war and that this has had some influence on cross-Strait economic exchanges. Yet, the deputy director sounded a note of optimism about the general trend of cross-Strait economic cooperation, which, in his view, has not changed and prospects are favorable towards expansion of cross-Strait economic ties.
Furthermore, Sun emphasized how cross-Strait exchanges and cooperation require peaceful development in the Taiwan Strait. Echoing a common refrain of Chinese propaganda, Sun proclaimed that only if cross-Strait relations is good can Taiwan be good and the interests of the Taiwan compatriots be protected. The deputy director emphasized that to have better cross-Strait relations, compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait must promote the so-called “1992 Consensus” (九二共識); oppose Taiwan independence and secession; and, at the same time, advance cross-Strait exchange and cooperation, and deepen cross-Strait integration and development in the spirit of the phrase “the two sides are one family on each side of the Taiwan Strait” (兩岸一家親).
Despite warning of the headwind, Sun said that the Chinese government will continue to deepen cross-Strait economic cooperation through the promotion of the “31 Measures” (卅一條措施) and its implementing measures. He added that Beijing will continue to implement incentives so that Taiwan businessmen and enterprises there can obtain greater benefits in China and to take further steps to improve conditions for equal treatments of Taiwan businesses, and to strengthen the technological transformation of Taiwan enterprises in China. Other measures include helping Taiwan enterprises enter the Chinese market; attracting Taiwan enterprises to invest in and enter the Taiwan Farmers Innovation Park (台灣農民創業園), and the cross-Strait industrial cooperation zone (海峽兩岸產業合作區), and other similar trading zones. Furthermore, Beijing will encourage Taiwan businessmen and enterprises to take advantage of China’s much-vaunted “One Belt, One Road” (一帶一路) initiative, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Construction (粵港澳大灣區建設) plan, and strengthen legal protection for businessmen and businesses from Taiwan.
Other speakers at the Forum included local Party officials. For instance, the CCP party-secretary of Yunnan province, Chen Hao (陳豪, b. 1954), noted in his speech that the “new era”—ostensibly in reference to general-secretary Xi’s 19th Party Congress speech—is an era for compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait for “great development, great actions.” The party-secretary of the southwestern province claimed that Yunnan will institutionalize Yunnan-Taiwan cooperation, deepen market integration, and strengthen cultural exchanges. The party-secretary highlighted three points: 1) promote integrated development to share development opportunities; 2) advance cultural exchanges to jointly form a spiritual home (精神家園); and 3) strengthen youth exchanges to jointly share dreams.
In his speech, the chairman of the New Party—which is part of the pan-blue coalition, i.e. the pro-Kuomintang group (KMT, or Nationalist Party)—Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明, b. 1940) took note of how much Taiwan can do with just one province (Yunnan) in China. Yok added that if cross-Strait exchanges were fully opened, there would be countless opportunities for the compatriots on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The New Party was formed in 1993 and several members of its youth committee have been indicted on charges of attempting to form an espionage ring in Taiwan on behalf of China.
The Yunnan-Taiwan Forum—which began in 2011 under the administration of former President Ma Ying-jeou—focused on promoting economic cooperation between Taiwan and the southern Chinese province bordering Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, and Vietnam. Previous high-level participants from Taiwan included former KMT Chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and former Minister of Economic Affairs Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤). Notably absent were any reports of senior current representatives from the Nationalist Party attending this year’s Forum.
The main point: China’s multifaceted political warfare campaign against the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan includes central and provincial measures that reinforce each other. A prime example is the Yunnan-Taiwan Forum focused on promoting economic cooperation between Taiwan and the southern Chinese province.
CCP’s United Front with Taiwan’s Aboriginal Peoples
Taiwan is considered by many anthropologists as the birthplace of the Austronesian people and language. The island’s Austronesian heritage also serves as a cultural link between Taiwan and the Austronesian world that span Southeast Asia, Oceania, and East Africa. As one of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) target of United Front work in Taiwan, the CCP is actively courting aboriginal leaders from the country. This effort was on full display on June 28 when the Research Center for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits（海峽兩岸關係研究中心）—a think tank established by the Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO)—and the Taiwan Cross-Strait Peaceful Development Forum（台灣兩岸和平發展論壇） co-organized “The Symposium on Cross-Strait Relations and National Rejuvenation” （兩岸關係與民族復興座談會）in Beijing. Aboriginal elites invited to the conference included Kao Chin Su-mei (高金素梅, b. 1965), a member of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan who serves as Honorary Advisor to the Taiwan Cross-Strait Peace Development Forum, who headlined the event. The director of the TAO, Liu Jieyi (劉結一), also reportedly attended the event. Held at the Diaoyutai Hotel in Beijing, the meeting was reportedly attended by more than 100 people from both sides of the Strait.
That the CCP is engaging with Taiwan’s aboriginal leaders via United Front channels is nothing new. Yet, against the backdrop of Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies, and how countries in Oceania many with Austronesian heritage, these interactions take on even more strategic importance.
The CCP is known to have been actively courting indigenous tribes on Taiwan through United Front activities as early as 2000. According to a study published by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), China has been actively inviting aboriginal elites since as early as 2000, including national legislators, to visit and seek their recognition of a common identity. For example, the report pointed out that the “Mid-Autumn Festival of Cross-Straits Nationalities” (海峽兩岸各民族中秋聯歡晚會) held in China since 2002 with business representatives as well as legislators such as such as Liao Kuo-tung (廖國棟, b. 1955), Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉, b. 1957), and Kao Chin Su-mei, among others. In December 2009, the “Taiwan Minority History and Culture Exhibition” (台灣少數民族歷史文化展) was held in Beijing, which was attended by Legislator Yang Jen-fu (楊仁福, b. 1942) along with five other aboriginal legislators, and led by 14 elders of the aboriginal tribes with a 500-member delegation. The event was reportedly China’s first systematic exhibition of the theme of Taiwan’s aboriginal culture and history.
According to the in-depth MAC study, which was commissioned by the National Development Fund and authored by Professor Chiu Kun-Shuan (邱坤玄), the CCP’s strategy for United Front with Taiwan’s aborigines includes five types of activities: 1) strengthen academic research that demonstrates the ties between aboriginal people in Taiwan and China; 2) invite aboriginal youth elites to visit China and seek their recognition of a common identity; 3) promote academic exchanges between ethnic minorities across the Taiwan Strait and increase cross-Strait interaction; 4) promote cross-Strait cultural exchanges among ethnic minorities and increase interaction between Taiwan Aborigines with China; and 5) sponsor Taiwan’s aborigines to visit China for exchanges.
A musician-turned-politician, Kao Chin is from the Atayal tribe—one of 16 officially recognized tribes in Taiwan—and a member of the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union (無黨團結聯盟), a political party associated with the pan-blue coalition (the pro-Kuomintang group, KMT, or Nationalist Party). The Taiwan Cross-Strait Peace Development Forum is made up of a coalition of 19 pro-unification groups in Taiwan. The legislator has stirred controversy in the past for her pro-China activities. In 2009, Kao Chin met with the former CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao. In this year’s meeting, Kao Chin and her delegation met with CCP Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member Wang Yang (汪洋)—the senior most Party official in charge of United Front. In their meeting, the PBSC member reportedly thanked the attendees for being loyal adherents to the one-China principle and resolutely opposing Taiwan independence. Wang reiterated Xi’s 40th anniversary of the message to “Taiwan Compatriots,” which proposed five important policy proposals for peaceful unification. According to Wang, many Taiwan compatriots have expressed their willingness to actively strengthen communication and consultation with Beijing to realize this claim.
Five joint initiatives were reportedly announced at this year’s Forum. These initiatives include supporting the development of special tourism cooperation in cross-Strait minority areas, expanding cross-Strait grass-roots exchanges and concentric circles, and resolutely resisting various forms of “de-Sinification” and Taiwan’s cultural independence from China. The two sides also reportedly reached a consensus that include jointly adhering to the so-called “1992 Consensus” and promoting cross-Strait peace development; strengthening national unity and friendship, and sharing the mission of national rejuvenation; deepening cross-Strait integration and development, and enhancing people’s affection and well-being; promoting Chinese traditional culture and maintaining the spiritual links of compatriots; and expanding cross-Strait grassroots exchanges.
The Forum is one example of how the CCP is promoting United Front with Taiwan’s aboriginals and follows other initiatives targeting the indigenous community on the island. In related developments, the Minzu University of China (中國中央民族大學) recently established a quota for recruiting aboriginal students from Taiwan. According to a report from Taiwan’s National Security Council meeting, in order to promote the Taiwan version of “One Country, Two Systems,” the CCP is utilizing United Front and infiltration techniques to engage with local grassroots, farmers and fishermen, retired generals, religious groups, aboriginals, cultural organizations, media, and triads—among other groups.
The main point: That the CCP is engaging with Taiwan’s aboriginal leaders via United Front channels is nothing new. Yet, against the backdrop of Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies, and how countries in Oceania many with Austronesian heritage, these interactions take on even more strategic importance.