TAIPEI, TAIWAN —
China is slowly tightening its grip on self-ruled Taiwan to make it break a nearly year-old political deadlock, but it’s avoiding any tough measures that it can’t reverse if relations improve, analysts say.
A Chinese official said at an annual parliament session in Beijing this month that the government will revise official language related to its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, which has been self-ruled for 70 years. It’s not clear what statements the revisions would cover.
But experts in Taipei believe neither that change nor any other move is likely to rattle Taiwan before the Communist Party’s year-end congress, which could decide changes in the senior Chinese leadership as well new mandates on relations with other governments.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) listens during the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, March 3, 2017. The head of China's legislative advisory body, Yu Zhengsheng, said China continues its firm opposition to Taiwan's formal independence and insistence that its leaders accept that the self-governing island is part of China.
Chance to break deadlock
“(Chinese President) Xi Jinping himself or the party center does not want Taiwan to become a hot potato before the 19th party’s congress,” said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. “They would not do anything dramatic if there is no specific issue to be dealt with.”
Taiwan has indicated it might make an overture to China within the year.
“The second half of the year might be a good chance to break the deadlock in cross-Strait relations,” Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister with Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said Thursday without elaborating.
“The Council thinks that a lot of international and regional changes since the start of the year are affecting development of the cross-Strait situation,” Chiu said. “To handle international, regional, cross-Strait and domestic uncertainty, the government must stay calm, rational, and control risks and seize opportunities while cautiously promoting cross-Strait policies.”
Economic, diplomatic pressure
In the meantime, China could use more economic and diplomatic pressure to push Taiwan toward a resumption of dialogue that stopped after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May. Tsai’s party includes advocates of Taiwan’s de jure independence from China to consecrate self-rule. Independence is a red line for Beijing, but surveys indicate most Taiwanese prefer autonomy.
That type of pressure will probably mean more cuts in Taiwan-bound group tourism, which fell 30 percent from May through December. China would also continue to bar Taiwan from United Nations events and from joining sub-agencies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization.
But it could also reverse any of those moves, said Huang Kwei-bo, associate diplomacy professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
“To make Taiwan poor, that’s one thing, and another is in international space to make it less convenient for Taiwan,” he said. “The result I think is that just Beijing wants to remind Taiwan people if cross-Strait relations are not good, this is what you’re going to see. Basically whatever mainland China does, they will be able to reverse any of it.”
Analysts in Taiwan also expect China will offer favors to Taiwanese investors who back Beijing’s views on relations. It will also push for more people-to-people exchanges, especially among youth, Huang Kwei-bo said.
According to convention, delegates at the year-end congress in Beijing would give Xi another five-year term as party chairman, auguring political stability for China as a whole and in turn for its relations with Taiwan.
“As a rule, when authority in Beijing is strong and steady, Beijing’s measures toward Taiwan are more flexible,” said Lin Chong-pin, a retired strategic studies professor in Taiwan. Measures are “harsh” when authorities are being challenged, he said.
Tsai’s government and officials in Beijing have never talked because they cannot agree on how to regard each other — as two parts of China per Beijing’s view or against a backdrop that recognizes Taiwan’s self-rule. Chinese leaders talked regularly with the eight-year government of Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou. Ma’s government and China signed more than 20 deals that stimulated trade and investment between the two sides.
China and Taiwan have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist lost to the Communists and re-based in Taipei.