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Official: China Planning Series of New Moves to Unify with Resistant Taiwan

Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrive at the opening session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrive at the opening session of China's National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

China’s warning Tuesday that Taiwan should avoid the pursuit of political independence kicks off what a senior policymaker in Taipei predicts will be a series of new actions aimed at pulling the democratic island closer to Beijing’s control.

In a report to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his government would “resolutely oppose and contain” any effort to separate Taiwan from China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Taiwan, though proudly self-ruled for more than 70 years, has never declared itself constitutionally independent.

After the annual 10-day legislative session in Beijing, the Chinese government will invite a roster of Taiwanese people for events to discuss Chinese President Xi Jinping’s January 2 calls for peace, unification, talks and joint development between the two sides, Taipei’s deputy Mainland Affairs Council minister Chiu Chui-cheng told Voice of America. His government rejects unification.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s and not ruled out using force to unify the two sides. More than 80 percent of Taiwanese oppose unification, government surveys indicate. The Chinese president’s January 2 proposals, known as “Xi’s five points,” renewed insistence in Beijing that the two sides merge.

“We can see recently that organizations set up in Taiwan are inviting our Taiwanese businesspeople and students for symposium and forums,” Chiu said. “We think, after the National People’s Congress, they will push out a series of activities and laws to appeal for Xi’s five points.”

National People’s Congress

The annual congress bringing together about 3,000 delegates normally starts and ends with calls for China-Taiwan unification. This year’s congress coincides with the release of 31 Chinese government incentives to bring over Taiwanese citizens for work, study and investment. It’s also the first political milestone since Xi’s speech.

The congress will get a “high degree of attention” from officials in Taipei, Chiu said.

The congress, also widely seen as a rubber-stamp agency of the Communist government, can approve laws on political and economic policy. In 2005 it passed the Anti-Secession Law that formally authorized use of force against Taiwan if needed to stop formal independence.

The congress may pass laws this year to back proposals raised by Xi in January, Chiu said.

Events tethered to this year’s congressional session may cover as well Xi’s suggestion that China govern Taiwan as “one-country, two systems,” Chiu added. That term that implies master control by Beijing with a measure of local autonomy for Taiwan.

‘Democratic consultations’

Post-congressional activities aimed at Taiwan would likely sync with Xi’s call in January for “democratic consultation” between Chinese leaders and Taiwanese political camps beyond the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Chiu said.

The ruling party takes a guarded view of relations with China, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has irked Beijing by rejecting its call for dialogue.

But Taiwan’s main opposition the Nationalist Party embraces dialogue with Beijing. It’s set to lock heads with the ruling party in this year’s campaign for the 2020 presidential race. Many Taiwanese advocate trade and investment dialogue with China while keeping their self-rule.

Han Kuo-yu, the Nationalist-backed mayor of Taiwan’s major port city Kaohsiung, is due to visit two mainland Chinese cities in late March. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office expresses “welcome and support,” Xinhua said.

Chiu cautioned that other governments that have talked peace with China never meet a “good outcome.”

“We hope our citizens and compatriots can all have this kind of common understanding and together defend our democratic autonomy,” he said.

The Chinese government’s Taiwan Affairs Office is probably working on ways to implement “democratic consultation,” said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate with the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, D.C.

“I feel like there has to be something on that,” Sun said. “Otherwise they won’t be able to answer to Xi Jinping’s calling for democratic consultation among all political forces from all industries and all trades on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.”

Those consultations will fall “in line with the peaceful development of cross-Strait (two-way) relations as well as the will of the compatriots across the Strait and the tides of the times,” Xinhua says, citing a Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson.

Moderate tone

Xi is also on the defensive after the Taiwan president’s rebuttal to his January 2 speech raised her public approval ratings by 10 percentage points, said Lin Chong-pin, a retired strategic studies professor in Taiwan.

Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang dropped the “five points” at a conference later in January, Lin noted.

“I think Xi went through his first learning curve after he stated five points, which actually catapulted Tsai from a valley up to a height, and that’s why Xi immediately changed course,” Lin said.