Wang Huning’s First Year Supervising the United Front System: Taiwan Policy and Discourse

Wang Huning’s First Year Supervising the United Front System: Taiwan Policy and Discourse

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Wang Huning’s First Year Supervising the United Front System: Taiwan Policy and Discourse

At the 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中國共產黨) convened in October 2022, Wang Huning (王滬寧)—a longtime behind-the-scenes majordomo for CCP leaders, and the figure long regarded as the party’s lead ideologist—was promoted to the fourth-ranked position in the CCP Politburo Standing Committee (PSC, 中央政治局常委會). Wang thereby leapfrogged over many other potential candidates whose experience in either provincial leadership posts or the senior ranks of the party’s functional bureaucracies would traditionally have made them more promising contenders for the CCP’s inner circle of power. Wang’s fourth-ranked position in the CCP hierarchy conveys with it responsibility for the CCP’s united front policy portfolio, as well as chairmanship of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, 中國人民政治協商會). This, as well as Wang’s reported position as deputy chair of the CCP Central Leading Small Group for Taiwan Work (中央對台工作領導小組), makes Wang the party’s senior figure for directing Taiwan policy—ranking behind only CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平). [1]

Early in 2023, there was speculative analysis to the effect that Wang had been tasked with formulating a new ideological framework for unification with Taiwan: one that would supersede the “One Country, Two Systems” (OCTS, 一國兩制) framework first articulated under Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in the late 1970s, and more firmly place the stamp of the current leadership on Taiwan-related policy. So, after Wang’s first full year acting as the party’s point man for united front policy—and therefore Taiwan policy—where do the CCP’s official policies stand?

The May “Taiwan Work Conference”

At the annual “Taiwan Work Conference” held in May 2023, the OCTS framework was noticeably absent from Wang’s keynote address. Instead, Wang invoked 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) (hereafter, “Comprehensive Plan”). The “Comprehensive Plan” is a set of broad (and vague) ideas that double down on the current orientation of CCP policy: rejecting engagement with Taiwan’s current “separatist” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨)-led government; expanding united front “people-to-people” (民間交流) exchanges; and offering economic inducements to selected persons and groups in Taiwan, especially those who accede to (or at least do not oppose) PRC claims of sovereignty over Taiwan. 

In the May conference, Wang reasserted the PRC’s insistence on the “92 Consensus” (九二共識) as a prerequisite for any cross-Strait negotiations. Although subject to hair-splitting (and often muddled) definitions, this term encapsulates the idea that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of China (ROC) governments could each maintain the existence of “one China,” while maintaining different interpretations as to what that means. [2] Since summer 2022, the CCP propaganda apparatus has renewed efforts to assert the concept, but with a significant shift in emphasis and interpretation: specifically, that acceptance of the “92 Consensus” conveys acceptance of the PRC’s One-China Principle” (一個中國原則)—which maintains that the “One China” is the PRC, of which Taiwan is a constituent (and subordinate) province. [3] 

The 15th Straits Forum in June

Wang was the senior CCP figure present for the 15th iteration of the Straits Forum (海峽論壇), a carefully stage-managed annual event organized by the united front system to promote the softer side of the CCP’s narratives on Taiwan policy. Wang’s address to the event on June 17 took the form of reading before the attendees a laudatory letter (賀信) nominally written by Xi Jinping. The address emphasized familiar themes, under the rubric of the CCP’s “‘the two sides of the Strait are one family’ concept” (“兩岸一家親”理念). The broad (and vague) measures to be emphasized included the need to further promote economic and cultural exchanges, and to “deepen integrated development across the Strait in varied domains” in ways that would benefit “Taiwan compatriots” (臺灣同胞). Of note, Kuomintang (KMT, 國民黨) Vice-Chairman Hsia Li-yan (夏立言)—a regular fixture at such united front events—was also present, seconding Wang’s support for the “92 Consensus” and enhanced economic and cultural exchanges between the two sides.

Two themes of particular note emerge upon close examination of the Xi/Wang comments. The first is found in the repeated emphasis on “people-to-people exchanges (民間交), as in the assertion that “the development of cross-Strait relations has its foundation among the people, its energy is with the people, [and] the achievements of exchange cooperation should be extended to compatriots on both sides of the Strait” (兩岸關係發展根基在民間、動力在人民,交流合作成果惠及兩岸同胞). The CCP has emphasized his theme with increasing repetition since it cut off any negotiations with Taiwan’s current DPP-led government following the election of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英) in 2016. This is intended to create a dynamic in which Taiwan’s government is frozen out, and exchanges are conducted under the auspices of the CCP’s carefully controlled and stage-managed united front system. Put another way, this means that the CCP’s formula for “people-to-people exchanges” is one characterized by the fundamental asymmetry of private citizens on one side (Taiwan), and a government on the other (the PRC).

The other noteworthy theme from Xi’s letter is found in the introductory assertion that “Only when the country is well, and the nation is well, can cross-Strait compatriots be well” (國家好,民族好,兩岸同胞會好). Although this and other CCP messages ostensibly convey paternalistic concern for the welfare of Taiwan’s people, this phrasing conveys a clear position of superiority for the PRC in relation to Taiwan—and further carries with it an undertone of menace, if the actions of “Taiwan compatriots” are deemed to be unsatisfactory. [4]

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Image: Wang Huning delivers an address to the “Sixth Taiwan Compatriots Social Organizations Forum” (October 12, 2023). Such stage-managed united front events are a keystone of the CCP’s Taiwan policy. (Image source: CCP Taiwan Work Office)

Wang Huning’s Events in Late 2023

In the final months of 2023, Wang also made public appearances presiding over at least two other public events related to the CCP’s official policies for Taiwan—and perhaps of greater significance, a third event connected to the CCP’s more covert, subversive practices.

The Sixth Taiwan Compatriots Social Organizations Forum

On October 12, Wang presided over the “Sixth Taiwan Compatriots Social Organizations Forum” (第六屆台胞社團論壇) in Beijing, an event attended by approximately 300 people drawn from the CCP United Front Work Department’s (UFWD, 統一戰線工作部) network of Taiwan-oriented front organizations. (The attendees reportedly included Wu Ch’eng-tian [吳成典], the chairman of Taiwan’s New Party [NP, 新黨] and a longtime fixture in CCP united front efforts.) The event was held under the official theme of “Serving Villagers [or “local folk”], Communicating Across the Strait—Advancing Cross-Strait Relations and Peaceful Development, Sharing Promotion of the Great Enterprise of National Revival” (服務鄉親,溝通兩岸-推動兩岸關係和平發展,共促進民族復興偉業). [5] The event reiterated the focus on “people-to-people exchanges” as the professed focus of PRC policy, as well as a longstanding goal of encouraging Taiwanese to live and work in the PRC, so that “Taiwan compatriots may share in the broad opportunities and development achievements of the mainland’s modernization.” Notably, the official summary of the event made repeated use of language emphasizing the need to encourage “cross-Strait compatriots” to develop a “convergence of spirit” (心靈契合)—perhaps a nod to the intense focus of Xi/Wang on correct ideology as the key to resolving China’s problems.

The 10th Anniversary Cross-Strait Entrepreneurs Summit 

On November 14, Wang presided over the 10th anniversary meeting of the “Cross-Strait Entrepreneurs Summit” (兩岸企業家高峰會) in Nanjing, another example of the CCP’s longstanding efforts to cultivate and leverage Taiwanese businesspeople operating enterprises in the PRC. Before a reported audience of  “members of 25 organizations and 126 individual entrepreneurs,” Wang read another “congratulatory letter” from Xi. (Xi’s cult of personality has become so pervasive that the public appearances of other senior officials now often take the form of reading out a statement nominally written by Xi.) The letter promised to “deepen cross-Strait integrated development” (深化兩岸融合發展)—a touchstone of CCP discourse, which argues that enhanced economic ties will bind Taiwan more closely to China—and to “promote the welfare of compatriots, and produce new accomplishments in the great enterprise of promoting unification of the motherland” (增進同胞福祉、促進祖國統一大業作出新的貢獻). 

In his own comments, Wang promised: “We will, from beginning to end, respect, show concern for, and bring benefits to Taiwan compatriots; allowing for the broadest number of Taiwan compatriots and Taiwan enterprises who wish to come and stay [in China], to enter smoothly, develop well, [and] better share together in the mainland’s development achievements and glories of national revival.” This latter statement represents a further reinforcement of a central CCP theme of encouraging Taiwanese to invest and work in the PRC—even as many Taiwan-based companies have been shifting production out of China in response to the business and political environment.

The December Conference on Taiwan Election Interference

While such public meetings serve to illustrate the CCP’s overt propaganda directed towards Taiwan, the more subversive (and arguably, more substantive) elements of CCP policy were reportedly hashed out at a closed-door meeting convened by Wang in early December. According to media reports based on Taiwan intelligence information, Wang presided over a meeting of various agencies of the CCP party-state—including the CCP Propaganda Department (also known as the State Council Information Office, 國務院新聞辦公室), the Ministry of State Security (MSS, 國家安全部), the United Front Work Department, and the CCP Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO, 國台辦)—to coordinate efforts to influence Taiwan’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections. Such measures reportedly included cultivating Taiwan political figures, arranging travel for Taiwanese living in the PRC to return to Taiwan to vote, and promoting a narrative that the election is a “choice between peace and war.” (Note: For a more detailed discussion of PRC measures directed against Taiwan’s January 13 elections, see “A Preliminary Assessment of CCP Political Warfare Targeting Taiwan’s 2024 Elections” by Russell Hsiao, elsewhere in this issue.)


Overall, Wang’s first year managing Taiwan policy—at least to the extent he can manage it, under the overbearing Xi Jinping—has been characterized by what might be called “intensified continuity.” In terms of discourse, as of yet there has been no formal abandonment of the legacy “One Country, Two Systems” policy, and the PRC continues to demand Taiwan’s adherence to the largely fictitious “92 Consensus” framework. The “Party’s Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem” has continued to receive steady emphasis, and its rather vague points of emphasis appear to be supported by the other statements made by Wang and other CCP officials this year. However, these propaganda messages have clearly not had the intended effect of convincing Taiwan’s citizens of the goodwill of the ruling authorities across the Taiwan Strait. Matters of public messaging aside, the real core of the CCP’s policies for “reunification” continue to lie not in persuasion, but rather in overt coercion and covert subversion. 

The main point: Since his promotion to the fourth-ranked position in the Politburo Standing Committee a year ago, Wang Huning has made a range of appearances at official CCP events, in which he has outlined policies towards Taiwan consistent with the CCP’s vague “Comprehensive Plan” for unification with the island. Under Wang, the CCP is likely to continue pursuing intensified overt coercion and covert subversive measures directed against the island and its democratic society.

[1] Liang Shu-yuan (梁書瑗), “The Communist Party’s Taiwan Work and Personnel at the Outset of the Year” (中共開局之年的對台工作與人事), Institute of National Defense and Security Research, undated (2023), https://indsr.org.tw/uploads/indsr/files/202305/3ff7d877-a00f-4dca-87a1-c5f5364a0f8b.pdf. See Figure 1 (p. 15) for the assessed membership of the CCP Taiwan Work Leading Small Group.

[2] The “92 Consensus” has also featured as an issue in Taiwan’s ongoing presidential election campaign, in which it has been rejected by the DPP, but affirmed by KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih (侯友) (at least in the KMT’s interpretation, as compared to the interpretation offered by the PRC government). In 2021, then-KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) attempted to update the concept to better fit Taiwan’s current circumstances. (See: Russell Hsiao, “Fault Line Widens Between KMT and CCP over the ‘1992 Consensus’,” Global Taiwan Brief, April 7, 2021, https://globaltaiwan.org/2021/04/fault-line-widens-between-kmt-and-ccp-over-the-1992-consensus/). However, these efforts reportedly encountered resistance from KMT power brokers like former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英), and were abandoned. 

[3] The PRC’s effort to shift the meaning of this framework is analyzed in further detail in: John Dotson, “The CCP Commemorates the 30thAnniversary of the “1992 Consensus”—and Seeks to Change Its Meaning,” Global Taiwan Brief, April 7, 2021, https://globaltaiwan.org/2022/09/the-ccp-commemorates-the-30th-anniversary-of-the-1992-consensus-and-seeks-to-change-its-meaning/

[4] The English translation “nation” does not adequately convey how the word minzu (民族) is very much linked to ethnic/cultural identity. In this context, the intended meaning is likely something closer to: “[…] only when the Chinese [people/nation] are well [or satisfied], can cross-Strait compatriots be well […]” 

[5] Of note, this theme follows on other recent attempts by the CCP united front system to emphasize attention to the concerns of rural residents in Taiwan, and/or exchanges between Taiwan and PRC officials from rural areas, as with the “Sixth Grassroots Administration Forum” convened in Xiamen in June 2023.