KMT Ramps Up Dialogue with CCP with Vice Chairman’s Seventh China Visit—While DPP Appears to Float Trial Balloons

KMT Ramps Up Dialogue with CCP with Vice Chairman’s Seventh China Visit—While DPP Appears to Float Trial Balloons

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KMT Ramps Up Dialogue with CCP with Vice Chairman’s Seventh China Visit—While DPP Appears to Float Trial Balloons

A little over a month after Taiwan’s national elections, a senior Kuomintang (KMT, 國民黨) leader traveled once again to China for talks. Andrew Hsia (夏立言), the party’s vice chairman, visited the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from February 26 – March 3—making this his seventh trip since becoming KMT Chairman Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) second-in-command in 2021. [1] In an interview with the local press on the day of his departure, Hsia explained that his visit had been planned since late 2023 and was purely intended to call upon the many Taiwan nationals who live, work, and study in the PRC. Hsia’s visit comes at a particularly sensitive time in cross-Strait relations, with tensions continuing to rise as Beijing is widely expected to ratchet up pressure on the island democracy after voters elected the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP, 民進黨) presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (賴清德), handing the DPP an unprecedented third consecutive term in the executive office. 

The KMT vice chairman took pains to frame his trip as simply a “New Year Greetings, Caregiving Tour” (新春拜年、關懷交流) following the Lunar New Year holiday, while minimizing any connections to Taiwan’s elections. Hsia also was careful to emphasize that he had not been asked by the DPP government to make this trip and that it was purely a routine civil engagement. This may have been an attempt to avoid the perception that the KMT could be trying to undermine the incoming government’s cross-Strait policy. At the same time, Hsia stressed the need for cross-Strait dialogue and called on both sides to take steps to calm the tensions—especially following recent confrontations between Chinese and Taiwanese vessels off the coast of Kinmen. 

In the long absence of senior official interactions between Taiwan’s ruling government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 共產黨), Hsia has been one of the most senior political figures from Taiwan to maintain regular interactions with the PRC. In a sense, Hsia has become the de facto interlocutor between Taiwan and the PRC. Far from being a simple constituency call, however, a closer look at Hsia’s entourage reveals a far more policy-oriented dimension to the trip. Indeed, Hsia brought along China policy heavyweights from within the KMT: including the party’s Mainland Affairs Bureau Director Lin Chu-chia (林祖嘉) and National Policy Foundation (NPF, 國家政策基金會) Senior Adviser and China expert Zhao Chunshan (趙春山), as well as other party officials. Several of these delegates have been regular participants in Hsia’s previous visits. 

Reinitiating and Broadening KMT Channels with the CCP

Since the DPP came into power following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) victory in 2016, Beijing has cut off all high-level official interaction with the Taiwanese government. Limited party channels that existed between the DPP and the CCP were also mostly shunned after the DPP regained power.

In the absence of high-level official communication between the two ruling parties across the Taiwan Strait, tensions in the Taiwan Strait have steadily risen as the PRC ramped up its pressure on Taipei to coerce the DPP into accepting Beijing’s terms for negotiation. This growing friction has raised concerns about the possibility of miscalculation on either side leading to a military conflict. 

Fringe Voices Dominated Senior Cross-Strait Interactions

The freezing of official interaction, however, did not mean that no interaction has taken place between the two sides since 2016. Immediately following the KMT’s electoral defeat in 2016, then-KMT Chairwoman Hung Shiu-chu (洪秀柱), the party’s initial presidential candidate for the 2016 election, made a landmark visit in November 2016 to the PRC, where she met with Xi Jinping (習近平) during the 11th KMT-CCP Forum (國共論壇).

Even after her short tenure as KMT chair (which only lasted a little over a year), Hung has been a frequent traveler to Beijing and has held multiple meetings with senior CCP officials, even though she no longer held any formal party roles. [2] The former chairwoman, as well as fringe political parties in the Pan-Blue coalition like the leaders of the New Party (NP, 新黨)—which splintered off from the KMT in the early 1990s—have also been recurrent faces at CCP united front forums. During these events, they have appeared alongside Chinese officials, who have lambasted the DPP government and its so-called “Taiwan independence” positions. Notably, before Hsia began his China tours, these were the voices who senior CCP leaders—including Xi—mostly heard from. 

It is worth noting that during a previous period of mounting cross-Strait tensions in the early- to mid-2000s under the first DPP government of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) (2000-2008), the KMT and the CCP established formal party-to-party talks that allowed the two parties to bypass official channels. These talks were widely seen as having undermined the effectiveness of Taiwan’s central government in negotiating with Beijing, and also further muddied the waters in its relations with Washington. The first KMT-CCP Forum was held in 2006 (during Chen’s second term). These talks became more formal and regular following the KMT’s victory in the 2008 elections, with the two parties establishing further channels in the following years.

A KMT in Flux after 2016, Attempts to Reform

When the DPP returned to power in 2016, the CCP expected that it could rely on the robust party channels that it had built up with the KMT through more than a decade of careful cultivation to build a united front (統一戰綫) to once again isolate and undermine the new DPP government. To its surprise and chagrin, the internal discord exacerbated by the power vacuum left by former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)—as well as the changed geopolitical context brought about by the revival of great power competition, and increased public and private scrutiny on united front exchanges—made such efforts considerably more difficult. 

The KMT’s dismal performances in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections contributed to—and were caused by—a state of near paralysis within the party for years as it struggled to find a viable political pathway back to power. During this period, Taiwanese views of the PRC deteriorated significantly, especially following Beijing’s 2019 crackdown on Hong Kong, presenting challenges for both the KMT and the CCP. The Taiwanese public also began to cool to the sort of backroom negotiations that typified these engagements. For both parties, it became clear that a new model was needed.  

KMT-CCP Forum on Hold Since 2016

For various reasons, the KMT-CCP Forum has effectively been on hold since 2016 while the KMT debated internal reforms and its cross-Strait policy, and as various factions within the party wrestled for control. 

A former deputy director of the KMT Mainland Affairs Department, Edward Chen (陳一新), highlighted this growing distance between the KMT and the CCP. In 2020, Chen argued that the KMT and Beijing were essentially at a stalemate, citing the stalled exchanges between the two sides. In particular, Chen noted that then-Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), who was trying to initiate substantial reforms within the KMT at the time, appeared to be signaling to Beijing that the KMT does not have to cooperate with the PRC, especially since China showed little interest in cooperating with the KMT. 

It is also in this context that the significance of the resumption of more authoritative, party-to-party dialogue in 2022 snaps into clearer view. The KMT’s renewed interest in party exchanges reflected through the vice chairman’s many visits to China and interactions with the CCP, may indicate a desire to broaden the current channels of communication with the CCP. In effect, the KMT seems determined to ensure that the CCP does not only engage with fringe voices like Hung and former NP Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明), who have both been frequent visitors to the mainland. 

Chairman Chu Returns 

Following Eric Chu’s return to the party’s helm in 2021, he decisively embarked on a two-pronged strategy of unifying the factions within the party and reconstituting its relationships with the United States and the PRC. [3] The returning chairman perhaps realized that he would need to win elections to build up his political support before he could start implementing meaningful reforms. At the same time, he would need to manage critical policy differences between the various factions, while also making up lost ground in the two most important capitals: Washington and Beijing. 

While Chu focused on helping the KMT win elections, he entrusted Andrew Hsia and Alexander Huang (黃介正) to engage with Beijing and Washington, respectively. Tellingly, he made the decision to finally re-establish the KMT’s representative office in DC in June 2022 (two months before Hsia made his maiden China visit). On the electoral side, Chu banked on proving his worth in the 2022 local and 2024 national elections. 

The Biden Administration’s Re-Engagement with China

The resumption of KMT-CCP dialogue also comes at a time when the United States has been attempting to reestablish regular communication channels with the PRC. After a rocky start in US-China relations, the Biden Administration began emphasizing the need for reimposing “guardrails” on the relationship. In pursuit of this objective, the Biden Administration began re-establishing senior-level contacts with Beijing. Indeed, following a tense first meeting between Biden Administration officials and their Chinese counterparts in Anchorage in March 2021, the two sides resumed high-level dialogue in November 2022 after the Chinese side cut off more than a dozen dialogues, ranging from climate issues to military disputes. Biden and Xi met in Bali, which led to a series of summits, wherein multiple cabinet officials in the Biden Administration visited their counterparts in China. The two sides also held the Biden-Xi Summit in November 2023. As Hsia’s visits make clear, the KMT appears to be resuming its engagement with the CCP after a brief cold spell as well. 

KMT Vice Chairman Andrew Hsia’s (夏立言) China Trips



Official Meetings

August 10-27, 2022

Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and massive PLA drills

Ahead of 9-in-1 local elections

Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS, 海協會) Chairman Zhang Zhijun (張志軍) and Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO, 國台辦) Deputy Director Chen Yuanfeng (陳元), among other provincial/local party leaders

February 8-17, 2023

The period following CCP’s 20th Party Congress; new PBSC, and newly appointed TAO Director

Wang Huning (王滬寧), PBSC member; Song Tao (宋濤), the new head of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office; Chen Yuanfeng; and Yin Li (尹力), the party secretary of Beijing, as well as other provincial/local party leaders from Beijing, Hubei, Jiangsu, and Chongqing

June 16-25, 2023

2023 Straits Forum in Fujian, Xiamen (廈門論壇)

Wang Huning, Song Tao, and other provincial/local party leaders from Yunnan Sichuan, among other provincial/local party leaders

August 28September 5, 2023

Shaanxi Taiwan Business Forum; Shandong Economic Forum, 

Song Tao, Lin Wu (林武), party secretary of Shandong Province, and officials Deng Yunfeng (鄧雲鋒), vice governor of Shandong, Pan Xianzhang (潘賢掌), deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, and other provincial/local party leaders from Shanxi, Shandong

October 24-26, 2023

Cross-Strait Economic, Trade, Science and Technology Cooperation Conference; Shaanxi-Taiwan Economic and Trade Cooperation Promotion Conference

Shanxi Party Secretary Zhao Yide (趙一德) and Shaanxi Province Governor Zhao Gang (趙剛), among other provincial/local party leaders

December 13-20, 2023

Right before Jan 2024 presidential and legislative elections

There was no publicly disclosed information on Hsia’s meetings. The central government of Taiwan has requested for Hsia to explain his schedule.

February 26-March 3 2024

Post-January Presidential & Legislative Elections 

Song Tao, as well as provincial/local party leaders from Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang, among others

Locations: Fujian, Zhejiang, Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Shanxi, Shandong, Chengdu, Nanchang, Zhongshan, Xiamen, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Kunshan [4] 

DPP Floating Trial Ballons to Communicate with CCP?

What is perhaps even more interesting than the Biden Administration and the KMT’s outreach to the PRC is that the DPP may also be modulating its approach to the CCP. Ahead of President-elect Lai’s inauguration on May 20, the DPP appears to be trying to reach out to the other side, with multiple officials calling for dialogue with the CCP. Notably, these statements have been accompanied by attempts to deemphasize the independence clause of the DPP’s charter. Most notably, during a recent virtual address at a non-governmental cross-Strait forum hosted in Xiamen attended by mainland experts, DPP China Affairs Department Director Wu Jun-zhi (吳峻鋕) stated that the DPP’s “Taiwan independence clause” is a “historical document” that has been superseded by the “1999 Resolution of Taiwan’s Future” (台灣前途決議文). [5] This claim may have been a trial balloon intended for Beijing. [6] 

Notwithstanding its intended audience, the DPP official’s statement sent a tremor through Taipei’s political circuits and even elicited a terse but neutral response from the PRC’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO, 國台辦). In the lead-up to Lai’s inauguration in May, the statement suggests that Lai and the DPP could be sending off some trial balloons in a possible effort to establish some contact with the other side (perhaps in the hope that Beijing may reciprocate). 


The KMT’s renewed efforts under Eric Chu to reestablish regular communications with Beijing in recent years should be considered in the proper context. While the sensitive timing of some of these visits—including during the Chinese military’s massive August 2022 exercises and immediately before the 2024 elections—were ill-advised and lacked political delicacy, the importance of having proper regular channels of communication between the two sides could nevertheless help to mitigate the risk of the miscommunication and miscalculation at a time of increased tensions. 

In the context of the KMT-CCP dialogue, it would also be preferable to have more mainstream party voices engaging with senior Chinese officials while minimizing the impact of fringe figures. If Beijing truly wanted to understand Taiwan’s political situation, then it should seek out channels other than those created by fringe, pro-unification politicians such as Hung and Yok, who represent a small minority in Taiwan. However, if Beijing continues to insist on a “One Country, Two Systems” formula for Taiwan (「一國兩制」台灣方案), then no amount of exchanges will increase the people of Taiwan’s willingness to peacefully unify with the PRC—no matter the party in charge. 

Hsia’s visits are also a far cry from the KMT-CCP Forums of the past, with that platform effectively on hold since 2016. It is noteworthy that Chu has not yet made an official visit to the PRC since he became chairman in October 2021 (the last time he met with Xi was in 2015, during Chu’s first tenure as chairman). In fact, Chu appears to have adopted a relatively more cautious approach than some of his predecessors. Nevertheless, it is worth watching whether a Chu-Xi meeting will materialize in the coming year, as the KMT chairman serves for a term of four years. Unless he steps down, Chu has until late 2025 to make such a meeting happen. 

In general, the KMT maintaining an open and regular line of communication with Beijing is likely a welcome sight in Washington, which is also attempting to re-establish similar communication channels while simultaneously competing with the PRC. However, if such engagements allow Beijing to exert undue and malign influence on the legislative process within Taiwan, then it could result in a very disruptive situation like in the early 2000s. 

At the same time, President-elect Lai has on several occasions noted his desire to reopen dialogue with China. “Our door will always be open to engagement with Beijing under the principles of equality and dignity. We are ready and willing to engage to show more for the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Peace is priceless and war has no winners,” Lai stated recently. What we are seeing now may be the first sign of those openings. 

After all, as the English statesman Winston Churchill once noted: “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”

The main point: KMT Vice-Chairman Andrew Hsia undertook a visit to China from February 26-March 3—his seventh visit since becoming party vice-chairman in 2021. Hsia’s trips represent a continuing effort by the KMT to maintain party-to-party contacts with the PRC’s ruling Communist Party. The DPP, the party of Taiwan President-elect William Lai, has also shown recent indications of potential efforts to open dialogue with the Chinese government. 

The author would like to thank GTI Spring 2024 Intern Willian Hung for his research assistance.

[1] The KMT has three vice chairmen; the others are Sean Lien (連勝文) and Huang Min-hui (黃敏惠).

[2] For instances of Hung’s visits to the PRC, see http://lib.taiwan.cn/2018wenxian/202101/t20210120_12319339.htm; http://www.gwytb.gov.cn/m/speech/201905/t20190515_12165198.htm; http://lib.taiwan.cn/2020wenxian/202101/t20210120_12319612.htm; http://www.xinhuanet.com/2021-07/23/c_1127686321.htm; http://www.gwytb.gov.cn/m/headline/202202/t20220205_12405561.htm

[3] Chu stepped down in 2016 after being drafted at the eleventh hour to replace Hung as the party’s candidate for the 2016 presidential election, which he lost to Tsai.

[4] https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/paper/1632727; https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/breakingnews/4588974; https://www.baike.com/wikiid/7271818912021856308?anchor=lluyrn641rk8

[5] For instance, Zhu Lei (朱磊), former Economics Department director of CASS-Taiwan Studies Center (affiliated with MSS), transferred to Nankai University in 2015. No record of his affiliation with Xiamen University was found.

[6] The conference was hosted by the Global Society of Cross-Taiwan Strait Studies (環球兩岸關係研究會), Global Forum of Chinese Political Scientists (全球華人政治學家論壇), and supported by the Taiwan Chinese Current Cultural and Education Foundation (台灣中流文教基金會) and the Shanghai East Asia Institute (上海東亞所). (See, e.g., https://www.chinatimes.com/newspapers/20240226000378-260118?chdtv).