Axeing of Taiwan specialist from top Chinese advisory body prompts concern Beijing may take harsher tack with island

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2017, 4:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2017, 4:07am

The recent removal of Zheng Lizhong, a former senior mainland Chinese official responsible for Taiwan affairs, from the country’s top advisory body has prompted concerns in Taiwan that Beijing may plan a harsher approach in dealing with the island.

The removal, which came just days after the retirement of Zhou Zhihuai, the director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Social Sciences known for his relatively friendly stance towards Taiwan, could signal that Beijing is getting more impatient with the self-ruled island, analysts said.

Zheng, a former executive vice-director of the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office and current vice-director of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, was stripped of his membership in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Thursday. No reasons were given.

Some reports said the removal could be related to “economic problems” due to his “favouritism” towards mainland-based Taiwanese businessmen whom he had close ties with. Others suggested that top leaders including President Xi Jinping felt that Zheng’s “economic concessions” approach – seen as the dove school theory represented by Zhou and others of his time – was failing to win the support of the Taiwanese public.

Ex-Taiwan affairs cadre gets the axe from top Chinese advisory body

Taiwanese media, quoting an unnamed official from the mainland’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said Xi was unhappy with the current approach adopted by the Taiwan Affairs Office system in winning public support.

Zhou was replaced by Yang Mingjie, the vice-president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a state-linked think tank. “Although it is premature to say that the removal of Zheng was related to Beijing’s decision to change its current dealing with Taipei, the replacement of Zhou with ... Yang Mingjie does reflect that Beijing wants to change tack on its policy towards Taiwan,” said Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

Yang’s expertise rested with US affairs, international relations, arms control and security, which implied Xi might want to discard the economic concessions approach currently used to deal with Taiwan, Wang said.

“With US President Donald Trump, known for his unpredictability and mercenary personality, Xi has found it necessary to use Yang’s expertise in mapping out strategies for Sino-US-Taiwan relations, meaning there will be a change in the mainland’s strategy in dealing with Taiwan, contrary to its currently friendly approach,” he said.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen continues call for Beijing talks but refuses to accept ‘one China’ principle

Su Chi, head of the Taipei Forum Foundation, called on Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party to find ways to resume communications with the mainland.

“It is likely that Xi will adopt a harsher approach towards Taiwan after the 19th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party if she fails to seek to restore mutual trust with Beijing,” Su said.

Beijing has suspended official communications with Taiwan since June to try to force Tsai to publicly acknowledge the “1992 consensus” – an understanding allowing both sides to recognise there is only one China, but each can have its own interpretation of what that China stands for. Beijing has said there would be no more talks or exchanges until Tsai accepts the consensus.

Liu Guoshen, director of the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University, said Tsai had failed to create any new terms to replace the “1992 consensus”.

“It’s entirely possible that some people in Beijing have been losing patience with Tsai,”Liu said

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan