This is a Chinese ‘charm offensive’ in full motion. It’s of course more wise than gunboat diplomacy, for which they already have thousands of missiles ready at a moment’s notice to rain down on Taiwan, but equally as dangerous in the long-term for the United States. The end-game aim for China is to push America completely out of Asia, for a regional Asian bloc and have nations (for example) such as Japan, both Koreas and Vietnam under its protectorate umbrella.
(Reuters) – Ever since a civil war split the two sides more than 60 years ago, China has viewed Taiwan as a renegade province that needs to be absorbed into the mainland. To that end, the legion of Taiwanese businessmen working in China is a beachhead.
In June, hundreds of those businessmen gathered in a hotel ballroom in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. They were there to toast the new head of a local Taiwan merchants’ association. They sipped baijiu liquor and ate seafood as a troupe performed a traditional lion dance for good luck. An honored guest, senior Communist Party official Li Jiafan, stood to deliver congratulations and a message.
“I urge our Taiwanese friends to continue to work hard in your fields to contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream as soon as possible,” said Li, using a nationalist slogan President Xi Jinping has popularized. “The Chinese dream is also the dream of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait – our dream of reunification.”
Li, who ended his speech to beating drums and loud applause, is a department chief in the Shenzhen arm of the United Front Work Department, an organ of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Its mission: to spread China’s influence by ultimately gaining control over a range of groups not affiliated with the party and that are often outside the mainland.
United Front documents reviewed by Reuters, including annual reports, instructional handbooks and internal newsletters, as well as interviews with Chinese and Taiwanese officials reveal the extent to which the agency is engaged in a concerted campaign to thwart any move toward greater independence by Taiwan and ultimately swallow up the self-ruled island of 23 million.
The United Front’s 2013 annual work report for the Chinese province of Zhejiang, for instance, includes the number of Taiwanese living in the province, the number of businesses they run as well as an entry on background checks that have been conducted on the Taiwanese community in the province, an entrepreneurial hub near Shanghai.
The United Front hasn’t confined itself to the mainland. It is targeting academics, students, war veterans, doctors and local leaders in Taiwan in an attempt to soften opposition to the Communist Party and ultimately build support for unification. The 2013 work report, reviewed by Reuters, includes details of a program to bring Taiwanese students and military veterans on visits to the mainland.
Through the United Front and other Chinese state bodies like the Taiwan Affairs Office, which is responsible for implementing policies toward Taiwan on issues including trade and transport, Beijing has also tried to influence politics on the island, in part by helping mobilize Taiwanese businessmen on the mainland.
Many of them are heading back home this weekend to vote in mayoral elections that are being viewed as a barometer of support for Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which favors closer ties with China than does the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). A large number of those businessmen, who a senior KMT source said will largely vote for the party, will be flying on deeply discounted airfares being offered by Chinese and Taiwanese airline companies.
“The goal is simple – peaceful unification,” said a person with ties to the Chinese leadership in Beijing. Soft power, not armed force, is the strategy. “To attack the heart is the best. To attack a [walled] city is the worst,” the source said, quoting Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”
What’s happening in Taiwan is part of a broader effort by Beijing to bolster its control over restive territories on its periphery.
The United Front has long been active in Hong Kong, which is ruled under the “one country, two systems” model that enshrines a wide range of personal freedoms for its residents and which China’s leaders have proposed as a model for Taiwan. Reuters reported in July that United Front operations in Hong Kong had shifted from the backroom courting of academics and businessmen to the streets, where new groups of pro-Beijing agitators were attempting to silence critics of China.
“What the United Front is doing to Taiwan now is the same as what it has been doing in Hong Kong since the 1980s – a quiet, slow but extensive penetration,” said Sonny Lo, a professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and author of a book on China’s covert control of the city.
Unlike Hong Kong, Taiwan is a fully democratic entity. It has an army but does not have membership in the United Nations, and China has refused to rule out the use of force to gain control of the island.
Since the KMT won the presidential election in 2008, cross-Strait ties have been warmer than ever. More than 20 trade deals, including the establishment of the first direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland, have been inked. No trade agreements were signed under the previous DPP-led administration. Earlier this year, Chinese and Taiwanese officials held their first official meeting since 1949.
Taiwan’s economy has become increasingly intertwined with China’s. About 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports are to China and some key sectors like technology have much of their manufacturing on the mainland. The world’s biggest electronic components maker, Foxconn Technology Group ,, which assembles Apple Inc’s iPhones, has many of its plants in China.
Taiwan presidential spokesperson Ma Weikuo said Taiwanese heading home to vote were exercising their right as citizens. “It is normal that Taiwanese businessmen living in Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, Europe, Japan and other parts of the world want to return to Taiwan to vote,” she said.
United Front officials reported creating a more friendly business environment by helping to smooth investment problems and resolve legal disputes for resident Taiwanese. In the Zhejiang city of Ningbo, one United Front office said it spent 110,000 yuan (about $18,000) to buy life and traffic accident insurance for 137 Taiwanese businessmen.
Under a “three must visit” system in effect across the mainland, United Front officials are instructed to visit Taiwanese businesspeople and their families during traditional holidays, when a family member is ill and when someone is facing economic troubles.
“They help with our business as well as little problems in daily life such as car accidents, illness and schooling for kids,” said a Taiwanese man surnamed Lin, who works in the property sector in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province.
One enticement China has dangled in front of the Taiwanese business community residing on the mainland, is provincial and municipal membership in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which serves as an advisor to the government. It is a prized honor for businessmen whose livelihoods are directly dependent on the mainland. The position affords access to government officials and a form of protection in a country that lacks an independent judicial system.
“There will be a force that helps protect your business on the mainland,” said Lin. “They won’t make trouble if you are a CPPCC member.”
Holding CPPCC membership is a violation of Taiwanese law that bars citizens from taking positions in state or party bodies in China. It is, however, legal to be an honorary, non-voting CPPCC member. The Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland (ATIEM), which lists some 130 Taiwanese business associations across China as members, met with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in December 2012 to try changing that.
Their bid to persuade him to allow Taiwanese citizens to become full-fledged CPPCC members ultimately failed. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council announced that same month that Taiwanese could not sit on the CPPCC.
Earlier in 2012, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau had handed a list of 169 Taiwanese suspected of being CPPCC members to the island’s Mainland Affairs Council, which implements policy toward China on a wide array of issues including business, shipping and travel. The council whittled the list down to 32. Ultimately, no one was punished after Taiwanese authorities determined those named were all either honorary CPPCC members or weren’t holders of a Taiwanese passport.
Full article:Special Report: How China’s shadowy agency is working to absorb Taiwan (Reuters)