Beijing Convenes Its Annual United Front Conference for Taiwan with the 2023 Straits Forum

Beijing Convenes Its Annual United Front Conference for Taiwan with the 2023 Straits Forum

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Beijing Convenes Its Annual United Front Conference for Taiwan with the 2023 Straits Forum

The Role of the “Straits Forum” in CCP United Front Outreach to Taiwan

From June 15-17, the “15th Straits Forum” (第十五屆海峽論壇) was convened in the city of Xiamen, in China’s southeastern Fujian Province. First held in 2009, the Straits Forum is an annual conference that serves as a centerpiece of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) outreach-cum-cooptation united front events directed at Taiwan. The event is shunned by officials of Taiwan’s current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨)-led government, which has characterized the event as “an important platform hosted by the CCP to advance its united front work against Taiwan,” and sought to discourage both private individuals and local government officials from attending. However, the Straits Forum often includes participation by senior figures from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT, 國民黨), who have supported it as a “people’s” (民間) forum for exchanges across the Strait. [1]

The annual Straits Forum is a highly scripted event, and many of its elements—such as propaganda-tinged entertainment performances (this year’s forum featured its own syrupy theme song), testimonial speeches by “Taiwan representatives” drawn from CCP-controlled united front organizations, and speeches by senior CCP political figures—all conform to repetitive and time-worn patterns. Despite this, the forum’s events, and its prioritized propaganda messages, can offer some insights into the direction of the CCP’s united front policies directed at selected individuals and groups in Taiwan—all in the name of Beijing’s ultimate goal of “reunification” on the CCP’s terms.

Propaganda Narratives at the 15th Straits Forum

The official theme for the Straits Forum over the past two years has been “Expanding People-to-People Exchanges, Deepening Integrated Development” (擴大民間交流, 深化融合發展). The Straits Forum postures itself as a venue for “people-to-people exchanges” (or “among the people exchanges”) (民間交流), and this message has been an increasing narrative theme of the CCP in recent years—even as the Chinese leadership has frozen out official government-to-government contacts with the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英). In the place of official dialogue, the CCP has offered up nominal civil society “grassroots exchanges” (基層交流)—with such engagements managed by the CCP’s party-state united front system—in the categories of “youth exchanges” (青年交流), “cultural exchanges” (文化交流), and “economic exchanges” (經濟交流). The second component of the slogan, that of “integrated development,” connects to a central pillar of Taiwan policy under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近): that closer economic development between the two sides of the Strait will pave the way for eventual “peaceful reunification.” [2]


Image: A Chinese state media photo of the auditorium hall for the 15th Straits Forum, which was convened in June in the city of Xiamen (Fujian Province). The official slogan of “Expanding People-to-People Exchanges, Deepening Integrated Development” is visible in the red banner at top right. (Image source: Xinhua)

The keynote address at the Straits Forum has traditionally been delivered by the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC, 政治局常務委員會) member who holds the chairmanship of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, 中國人民政治協商會議), and who therefore also bears responsibility for the party’s united front work (統一戰線工作) policy portfolio. (This was the case in last year’s forum, when outgoing CPPCC Chairman Wang Yang [] delivered the keynote address.) This convention was maintained in this year’s event, in that Wang Huning (王滬寧), the PBSC member who assumed the united front portfolio at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, was the featured speaker. In addition to comments of his own, Wang also read aloud a “letter of congratulations” (賀信) to the forum nominally written by Xi Jinping.

According to the official state media summary of Wang’s remarks, Xi’s letter added a second official slogan/theme (alongside the continued “Expanding People-to-People Exchanges, Deepening Integrated Development” theme) to the proceedings. This slogan was: “Only When the Country and the Nation Are Well Can Cross-Strait Compatriots Be Well” (“國家好,民族好,兩岸同胞才會好”). Considering that the slogan is directly associated with Xi’s letter, it carries even greater authority. The exact intent behind this slogan is unclear, but it could plausibly be interpreted as conveying both paternalistic concern and an undercurrent of implied menace. [3] This makes it something of a departure from the predominantly positive narrative environment promoted at the forum, which normally focuses most of its attention on promoting the cultural commonality between people on both sides of the Strait, and the profitable business opportunities available for Taiwanese people in China.

The text of Xi’s letter indicated “Hope that the Straits Forum will expand cross-Strait people-to-people exchanges,” and that all participants should “Continue to advance cross-Strait economic and cultural exchange cooperation, deepen integrated development in various cross-Strait domains, mutually carry forward Chinese culture, [and] promote the accordance of spirit on both sides of the Strait.” The letter concluded with a call for “cross-Strait compatriots […] to make contributions to advancing the great enterprise of unification of the motherland.”  

Wang reportedly noted that “We must, according to the spirit and guidance of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s letter of congratulations, from a new starting point make the Cross-Strait Forum better and better.” The official summary of Wang’s keynote address included the following comments, all of which repeated well-established CCP boilerplate phraseology for Taiwan:

[T]he foundation for the development of cross-Strait relations is among the people, its impetus is among the people, [and] the positive results of exchange cooperation extend to cross-Strait compatriots. We adhere to the principle that “both sides of the Strait are one family,” [and] from beginning to end we respect, show concern for, and benefit Taiwan compatriots. As long as [we may] benefit compatriots love and welfare, benefit and deepen mutual understanding and identification, we all will act with diligence, feeling, and energy, and we will surely act well. We hope that cross-Strait compatriots will seize the moment, devote themselves to the great enterprise of national revival, [and] share in the great opportunities of China’s modernization. […] 

Cross-Strait relations and peaceful development uphold peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, promote common development, [and] benefit cross-Strait compatriots, leading to the correct path of national revival. “Taiwan independence” is as incompatible with Taiwan Strait peace as fire is with water, [we] must resolutely oppose ‘Taiwan independence” separatist activities and interference by foreign forces. Only by persisting in the “92 Consensus” [and] opposing “Taiwan independence” can cross-Strait relations return to the correct track of peaceful development.

Participation by Taiwan “Representatives” at the 15th Straits Forum

The CCP maintains a network of Taiwan-oriented front organizations, whose members are regularly called upon to provide “representation” for Taiwan at an array of stage-managed public fora. One of the most prominent of these organizations is the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League” (TDSGL, 臺灣民主自治同盟), which enjoys official recognition in the PRC as one of the nominal “democratic parties” allowed to function as adjuncts of the CCP. Senior members of the TDSGL had token roles at the forum, as publicized in PRC state media: for example, party chairwoman Su Hui (蘇輝) reportedly gave a speech at the opening ceremony for the event, and led discussions at the “Sixth Grassroots Administration Forum” (第六屆兩岸基層治理論壇), a component event of the larger forum that purported to bring together “300 grassroots representatives” from both sides to discuss issues affecting rural area tradesmen. Su was also in attendance for a meeting that Wang Huning hosted for “distinguished Taiwan guests” (台灣嘉賓代表)—primarily businesspeople, or front organization members, or both—in attendance at the conference. 


Image: CCP Central Taiwan Office Director Song Tao (宋涛) (background, center right) was one of the CCP officials who met with “Taiwan representatives from various walks of life” (臺灣各界代表) during the 15th Straits Forum in Xiamen (June 18, 2023). Such orchestrated visits by CCP-controlled front groups are a key element of CCP “engagement” with Taiwan. (Image source: China Taiwan Net)

This year’s Straits Forum also included selected figures from the deeper “Blue” end of Taiwan’s political spectrum. New Party (新黨) Chairman Wu Cheng-tian (吳成典), a fixture of CCP propaganda efforts, was reportedly in attendance. A far more prominent figure present was KMT Vice-Chairman Andrew Hsia (夏立言)—who, as had been the case in each of the last two years, represented his party at the forum and delivered a speech to the assembly. According to an official PRC state media summary, (not necessarily a trustworthy source), Hsia avowed that the KMT continued to support the “92 Consensus” (九二共識) and to oppose Taiwan independence, and that it continued “to advance cross-Strait trade and cultural exchange cooperation, to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, [and] to promote the propitious path of both sides returning to peace and prosperity.”  


This year’s Straits Forum, as a scripted and carefully choreographed propaganda event, offered no real surprises. Instead, the event offered a predictable recitation of boilerplate CCP propaganda messages about Taiwan: bountiful economic opportunities are available for Taiwanese in China, CCP leaders are deeply concerned for the welfare of their brothers and sisters in Taiwan, people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are eager to embrace unification, and cross-Strait dialogue should be resumed on the basis of the “92 Consensus.” [4] The event’s function as a venue for CCP unification propaganda, and for united front cultivation efforts directed at individuals and groups in Taiwan, was very much in keeping with iterations from previous years.

The one thematic difference was Xi’s—or perhaps, in light of his role as the CCP’s leading ideologist, Wang Huning’s—slogan of “Only When the Country and the Nation Are Well Can Cross-Strait Compatriots Be Well.” Too much could easily be made of any of the CCP’s ever-evolving procession of propaganda slogans, but this one does appear to convey a darker tone than the anodyne promotion of “integrated development” et al normally associated with the event. Alongside the escalating military coercive pressure directed against Taiwan, the CCP’s rhetorical pressure is gradually escalating as well. 

The main point: The Cross-Strait Forum, the CCP’s largest annual united front conference for Taiwan, was convened in the city of Xiamen in mid-June. The event largely followed a predictable program of entertainment acts, business testimonials, and political speeches, but also inserted a new official propaganda slogan that asserted further pressure for unification on the PRC’s terms.  

[1] For discussion of themes and events at the Straits Forum in each of the past two years, see the author’s previous Global Taiwan Brief articles: “The 13th Straits Forum and Beijing’s United Front ‘People-to-People Exchanges’” (January 26, 2022); and The CCP’s 14th Straits Forum and United Front Outreach to ‘Taiwan Youth’” (July 27, 2022).

[2] For a discussion of the central CCP propaganda narratives surrounding unification with Taiwan, see: “What Is the CCP’s ‘Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem’? 

[3] Also noteworthy was the description of this slogan as a “Great Way of Truth” (大道至理)—yet another example of the increasingly grandiloquent and imperial-sounding discourse emerging from Xi’s cult of personality.

[4] For a discussion of the CCP’s treatment and interpretation of the “92 Consensus,” see: The CCP Commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the ‘1992 Consensus’—and Seeks to Change Its Meaning.”