John Dotson is the deputy director of the Global Taiwan Institute and associate editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
From July 11-13, the “14th Cross-Strait Forum” (第十四屆海峽論壇) was convened in the city of Xiamen, in China’s Fujian Province. First held in 2009, the Cross-Strait Forum is a yearly conference that serves as a centerpiece of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) calendar of united front outreach events directed at individuals and groups in Taiwan. The 2021 forum was delayed until December due to complications following from the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year’s event was back on track for its normal spring-summer timeframe, well in advance of the PRC’s major political events expected to be held later this year. 
The 14th Cross-Strait Forum largely adhered to a predictable script of appearances by PRC officials and testimonial speeches by persons from “grassroots” (基層) groups—which is to say, Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨)-controlled front organizations. Even the official slogan of “Expanding People-to-People Exchanges, and Deepening Integrated Development” (擴大民間交流, 深化融合發展) was carried over from last year. Yet, such events remain useful for providing insights into the propaganda themes and cooptation practices employed by the CCP in its overt united front outreach to persons and groups in Taiwan. This year’s event was particularly notable for its focus on recruiting “Taiwan youth” (臺灣青年) as supporters of unification. As a component of this effort, this year’s forum featured the reading of an open letter issued in the name of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平)—a new step, which possibly portends an increased public focus on Taiwan issues by Xi and other senior figures in the CCP hierarchy as the 20th CCP Party Congress approaches this autumn.
Themes and Events at the 14th Straits Forum
The three days of the 14th Straits Forum featured a range of events, including speeches, meetings, and musical and drama performances—all intended to reinforce a message of the common bonds between people in the PRC and Taiwan. Per the event’s official description, the conference included:
[…] youth exchanges, grassroots exchanges, cultural exchanges, [and] economic exchanges… [including] 43 events […and] 12 district-city events […] with about 2,000 honored Taiwan guests attending […] This year’s forum continues providing service to grassroots mass [organizations] and youth groups, grasping hands with Taiwan compatriots to advance together the Chinese people’s traditional culture, taking the lead with Taiwan compatriots to commonly enjoy development opportunities, [and] aiding cross-strait economic and social integrated development.
Most noteworthy among the events of the conference were statements by two members of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, the CCP’s highest policy-making and executive body, including supreme leader Xi Jinping. Also noteworthy was the stress placed on two central united front propaganda themes: the cultivation of Taiwanese young adults and the expansion of social and economic “people-to-people” exchanges (see further below).
Xi Jinping’s Open Letter to “Taiwan Youth”
One of the centerpieces of the highly scripted forum, presented on the opening day of July 11, was the reading of an open letter nominally written by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping in response to messages from Taiwanese young people. The letter praised the forum’s participants for their “bonds of affection with the mainland,” and declared that “in the mainland [you may] find an arena for the fulfillment of your dreams, personally experience the developmental transformations day by day in the motherland, [and] feel the fervent emotion of cross-Strait compatriots as one family.”
The letter encapsulated one of the most prominent themes of the conference: encouraging young adults from Taiwan to study, work, and make new lives for themselves in the PRC. The letter went on to state:
When youth prospers, the country prospers; when youth are strengthened, the country is strengthened. The future prospects of the motherland and nation [民族] lie in the hands of youth. As always we look to cross-Strait youth mutual study and mutual reflection to create positive conditions for Taiwan youth to study in the mainland, to take up work, to be entrepreneurs, [and to find] life with many benefits. [We must] allow more Taiwan youth to understand the mainland, [and] proceed together in one heart with mainland youth, cooperating and striving [together], persevering, moving rapidly, allowing youth to blossom in the great course of realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese people and the Chinese dream.
As expressed in one PRC state media article, Xi Jinping’s letter “made Taiwan youths participating in the forum feel a surge of emotion and endless inspiration.”
To further buttress this message, the forum featured a series of media statements and testimonial speeches from selected “Taiwan youth,” who were trotted out to repeat expressions of praise for Xi Jinping, as well as to extol the business opportunities available in the PRC. One such example was the statement attributed to Li Wei-guo (李偉國), chairman of the Taiwan Chinese Youth Economic and Trade Exchange Association (台灣中華青年經貿交流協會), who was quoted in PRC media as stating that “In the course of the great revival of the Chinese nation, cross-Strait youth are indispensable. Being a young person from Taiwan in the mainland’s development, [and] a representative of Taiwan youth innovating and making a career, I hope to allow more Taiwan youth to understand the mainland, to come to the mainland to develop their skills, [and] write together a new chapter in new era cross-strait integration.”
Wang Yang’s Keynote Address
As has been standard practice in past years, the forum’s keynote address was delivered by the CCP Politburo Standing Committee member who acts as chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, 中國人民政治協商會議), and who bears simultaneous responsibility for the united front policy portfolio—a position currently held by Wang Yang (汪洋). In his address to the forum on July 13, Wang reaffirmed the connections between China and Taiwan, stating that “cross-Strait compatriots” are “one family united by blood” (血濃於水的一家人). He also reiterated the standard calls to uphold the “One-China Principle” (一個中國原則) and the “92 Consensus” (九二共識). Wang further offered de rigueur affirmations of loyalty to Xi Jinping, noting that since the CCP’s 18th Party Congress (in 2012, when Xi took office), progress had made in implementing the “Party’s Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem in the New Era” (新時代黨解決台灣問題總體方略).
Wang’s address was also noteworthy for emphasizing the two primary propaganda themes of the event. The first of these, echoing the content of the Xi letter, was an appeal to Taiwan’s young adults to make new lives for themselves in the PRC. Wang stated:
[We must] create good conditions to encourage Taiwan compatriots, especially Taiwan youth, to come to the mainland to study, take up a career, [and] innovate. It is only with reliance on the great motherland, that Taiwan compatriots may find a better livelihood and happiness, [and] that their space for development will be larger. The mass of Taiwan compatriots should see clearly the general trends in the development of cross-Strait relations, [and] stand firmly on the correct side of history, resolutely opposing various types of “Taiwan independence” splittist actions, firmly grasping happiness and dreams in their own hands.
Wang also hit upon the second major theme, stating that the forum was a “distinguished gathering” for “cross-Strait cooperative people-to-people exchanges” (兩岸民間交流合作). This slogan of “people-to-people” exchanges (or “exchanges among the people”), a theme advanced at last year’s forum as well as in other CCP propaganda channels (see here and here), is a central component of CCP united front work directed at Taiwan. With government-to-government relations between the two sides of the strait largely at a standstill—a situation produced by Beijing’s determination to deny any legitimacy to what it identifies as a separatist administration in Taipei—the CCP has placed an emphasis on exchange activities that bypass government channels, at least on the Taiwan side. These nominally third-party civic exchanges are generally channeled through events such as the forum, or else through the CCP’s network of front organizations for Taiwan engagement.
Kuomintang Participation in the Straits Forum and Controversy in Taiwan
In a pattern consistent with both last year’s forum and other recent united front events, the 14th Straits Forum included participation by selected figures from the Pan-Blue spectrum of Taiwan politics. New Party (新黨) Chairman Wu Ch’eng-tian (吳成典), long a fixture at CCP-organized united front events, delivered an address to the forum that repeated CCP talking points about Taiwan. Kuomintang (KMT) Vice Chairman Hsia Li-yan (夏立言), who also participated in last year’s event, presented a recorded speech to the forum via video link on July 13. Hsia invoked “three appeals” (三點呼籲) in his speech, which called for: (1) using the so-called “92 Consensus” as the basis for returning to cross-Strait negotiations; (2) opposing Taiwan independence; and (3) using the basis of “seeking common grounds while accepting differences” (求同存異) to move towards “seeking common grounds while respecting differences” (求同尊異) between the two sides.  Hsia characterized these proposals as the best means to offer constructive exchanges and to uphold peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Yet, the messages presented at the 14th Straits Forum, as well as the participation of persons from Taiwan, drew criticism from both Taiwan’s government and representatives from the Pan-Green spectrum of Taiwan politics. On July 7, representatives of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) convened a press conference to preemptively criticize both the forum and the planned participation by the KMT’s Vice Chairman Hsia, calling the event a “back door” employed by the PRC to undercut Taiwan’s government. DPP legislative caucus Secretary-General Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) opined that “No other country would permit a political party to supersede the nation’s interests by engaging in talks and negotiations with a foreign country’s government, or a foreign political party,” and further criticized attendant efforts by the PRC to engage with local administrations in Taiwan, bypassing the central government. For its part, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC, 大陸委員會), Taiwan’s primary body for conducting official negotiations with the PRC, criticized the conference on July 12 by stating that “Its claims of mutually beneficial exchanges are insincere,” and that “It is clear that China’s exchanges and proclamations of mutual benefits for young Taiwanese are nothing but propaganda to poach talent to fill capability gaps in its economy.”
The 14th Straits Forum offered no surprises, and like its predecessors was a tightly scripted event that reiterated and reinforced existing CCP propaganda messages on Taiwan. Even the official event slogan was unchanged from the previous forum, held only seven months earlier. Yet, this in itself is significant, as it suggests a severe state of policy ossification on the part of the CCP, with party institutions implementing a rigid and unimaginative set of slogans and policies directed downwards from the upper echelons of the party hierarchy. The Xi letter presented no new policy initiatives, but it did potentially signal an increased readiness by the party’s supreme leader to link himself more directly and personally with Taiwan policy and the “historical trend” of unification. Whether or not this will translate to new policy guidelines directed at Taiwan—and potentially, enhanced coercive measures—to be unveiled at the 20th Party Congress will be well worth watching.
The main point: The 14th Straits Forum, an annual centerpiece event of the PRC’s united front efforts directed at Taiwan, was held in Xiamen in mid-July. One of the event’s most prominent themes, reinforced by an open letter from PRC supreme leader Xi Jinping, focused on encouraging “Taiwan youth” to live and work in China, and to support measures for unification.
 Although no dates have been publicly announced, the CCP 20th Party Congress is expected to be convened this year in the mid- to late autumn timeframe. If historical trends are followed, the party congress will likely be preceded by a late summer senior leadership retreat in the seaside city of Beidaihe (北戴河), in Hebei Province.
 At the 13th Straits Forum in December 2021, Hsia Li-yan presented a speech that similarly promoted initiatives in “three directions” (三個方向): (1) supporting the rights of young people to engage in “lawful and legitimate exchanges” (合法正當交流); (2) expanding the scope of exchanges across a range of areas, to include politics, economics, history, and culture; and (3) employing exchanges as a means to “seek common ground while acknowledging differences […] [to promote] mutual understanding, [and] from this point resolve differences [and] eliminate the distance between the two sides.”