Chinese President Xi Jinping met on Friday with a delegation of Taiwanese that included Lien Chan, the former chairman of the Kuomintang party (KMT), which is currently the opposition but ran the country until the year 2000.
Supporters of the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) complain that the trip to China undermines President Tsai Ing-wen, whose election two years ago enraged mainland China and prompted it to begin an aggressive campaign of diplomatic and economic isolation against Taiwan.
Kuomintang is angling for a political comeback by presenting itself as more prudent and China-friendly than Tsai and the DPP. The KMT on Thursday accused Tsai’s administration of playing political power games with important government offices in a desperate bid to retain power.
China’s Global Times favored Xi’s meeting with Chan with a rather lengthy report on Friday that stressed how the Taiwanese opposition is much more committed to “reunification” than independence-minded, America-friendly President Tsai:
The pursuit of a just cause and people’s common aspirations is unstoppable, said Xi during the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“We have the confidence and ability to keep a firm hold on the correct direction, work for the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, and advance the process toward the peaceful reunification of China,” Xi said.
Xi called on compatriots on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to work together to uphold the 1992 Consensus, which embodies the one-China principle, and to resolutely oppose and deter “Taiwan independence.”
He also called for joint efforts by both sides to expand and deepen cross-Strait exchange and cooperation in various fields, improve the kinship among compatriots and their wellbeing, and “jointly write the new chapter of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
“Once seeing through a long-term perspective and with a broad vision, compatriots from the two sides of the Strait would grasp the big picture of cross-Strait relations and overcome difficulties to push it forward,” Xi said.
“We have full confidence in the future of cross-Strait relations,” he said.
“We will never allow any attempts of ‘Taiwan independence’ to succeed. Such attempts are doomed to fail,” Xi added, because even the warmest and fuzziest Chinese commentary on Taiwan must include threats these days. China is very big on getting the Taiwanese to internalize the notion that independence is doomed and a return to Beijing’s control is inevitable.
As the carrot element of his carrot-and-stick approach, Xi referred to China’s “31 Measures” for Taiwan, a package of regulatory concessions made by China to entice Taiwanese people to do business on the mainland and seek employment there. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council skeptically viewed the 31 Measures as an element of Beijing’s effort to buy political support in Taiwan, lure away promising young Taiwanese employees, and pilfer trade secrets.
For his part, Kuomintang’s elder statesman Lien “proposed upholding the one-China principle, promoting peaceful cross-Strait relations and mutually beneficial integration, and revitalizing the Chinese nation,” according to the Global Times.
President Tsai said she would like to meet with President Xi to discuss “peace and stability” after the leaders of North and South Korea held their landmark summit in April, essentially putting the ball in Xi’s court and saying she was as eager to meet with him as any Taiwanese leader. Xi has not been eager to take her up on the offer, preferring instead to systematically peel off Taiwan’s diplomatic partners and send none-too-subtle messages to the Taiwanese people that the pressure will only ease up when Tsai is gone.
Tsai completed the second year of her term in May with a solid economy and low unemployment but sagging personal poll numbers, due in part to the effects of China’s isolation strategy. Some of her supporters have expressed disappointment with the extent of her reform efforts, while opponents criticize her administration for playing politics with important government offices, as the KMT did on Friday. On the other hand, Japan Times noted that she might actually have weakened her position by not dishing out enough patronage goodies to her supporters.
Local elections are coming up in November and will be carefully watched as an indicator of whether China’s arm-twisting is having the desired effect. If the DPP does poorly, there will likely be increasing pressure on Tsai to take a different approach with China, and the odds will shift in KMT’s favor for the presidential elections only fourteen months later.
The Chinese certainly seem to understand the stakes. Taiwan News reported on Friday that the tempo of Chinese cyberattacks on Taiwan is increasing and taking on a more obvious political character, including an attack last week on the DPP’s official website by an enigmatic hacker who threatened to go after KMT’s website next.
Taiwanese officials predict Chinese hackers will turn Taiwan into a “global hotspot for cyber-attacks and fake news” through the 2018 and 2020 elections,” and may also target computerized infrastructure such as communications, banking, and the power grid to weaken public confidence in the Tsai administration and further erode their resistance to China.