Civilian group from mainland China to take more prominent role in cross-strait affairs

All China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots might lead body on behalf of Beijing to reach out to Taiwanese youth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 3:29pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 11:31pm

A low-key civilian group headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s former deputy may take a more prominent role in driving Beijing’s new strategy to engage the Taiwanese public, as mainland China continues to shake up senior members of its Taiwan policy team.

The All China Federation of Taiwan Compatriots (ACFTC), which focuses on Taiwanese living on the mainland and is chaired by Wang Yifu, might lead a civilian body on behalf of Beijing to reach out to Taiwanese youth and small businesses, a source close to the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office said. Beijing is looking for a fresh channel to engage the island’s public.

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The new approach underscores Beijing’s injection of fresh blood to spearhead a new strategy after its previous focus on mainstream Taiwan political parties and big business saw little success in winning over Taiwanese.

The source said that since Taiwan’s independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in last May, the approach of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) and its affiliates appeared to have misjudged the situation or misunderstood Beijing’s thinking on Taiwanese affairs, to the dismay of top Communist Party leaders.

The miscalculations include initially sending signals of approval of Tsai’s inauguration speech and a clumsy response to Taipei’s choice of representative for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit last year.

The necessity of beefing up a civilian outreach to engage Taiwan has became more pressing, as both official and semi-official channels across the strait have been sidelined since Tsai has refused to explicitly acknowledge the so-called 1992 consensus on the one-China policy.

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The source said Wang, the federation president and of Tainan descendant, had been a key adviser to Xi on Taiwanese issues. Wang was a vice-governor of Fujian when Xi was its provincial governor from 1999 to 2002.

“[Wang] travels to Taiwan from time to time, and manages to make numerous friends from all walks of life and across the political spectrum on the island,” said the source, adding that Wang had done meticulous research on Taiwanese issues.

Several senior federation members also said they hoped the civilian group would take a more crucial role in cross-strait affairs.

“The central authority is pondering possible adjustments on the basis of policies towards Taiwan ...

One thing for sure is that the ACFTC will play a more important role in the years to come,”

said Major General Peter Huang Zhicheng, a national political adviser and a member of ACFTC. Huang formerly served in Taiwan’s air force but defected to the mainland by flying a F-5 fighter jet to Fujian in 1981.

“When all formal channels of communication and dialogue between both sides have stopped working as a result of Taipei’s refusal to recognise the 1992 Consensus, civil organisations have to provide more opportunities for young Taiwanese on the basis of working, studying and starting up businesses on the mainland,” said Ji Bin, a vice-chairman of ACFTC, adding that they now served 35,000 Taiwanese working or studying on the mainland.

But it remains to be seen how the federation will be received by Taiwan’s public and political parties.

Sun Yang-ming, vice president of the National Policy Foundation, a KMT think tank, said it was possible that ACFTC might play a bigger role in terms of cross-strait affairs in future.

“The federation leader, Wang Yifu, was known to be a friend and adviser on cross-strait affairs to Xi while he was in Fujian,” Sun said, adding Wang visited Taiwan often and remained in contact with pro-unification scholars.

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Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said think tank scholars and officials associated with the DPP rarely contacted the federation, given the organisation was generally regarded as a political puppet of the mainland.

“As far as I know, academics rarely dealt seriously with the organisation,” Wang said.

It remained to be seen whether the federation would emerge to play a more important role in carrying out Xi’s cross-strait policy, he added.

“If that were the case, I’m sure the independence-leaning camp would be more willing to deal with the federation,” he said.

Beijing’s Taiwan policy team has undergone an intense senior reshuffle in recent months.

In late February, veteran Taiwan affairs senior official Zheng Lizhong was sacked as vice-chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (Arats) for “seriously violated Communist Party discipline”. Meanwhile, Gong Qinggai, the former deputy director of TAO who was detained during a corruption probe in 2016, was sentenced to 15 years in jail last month.

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The mainland’s key official think tank on Taiwan affairs, the Institute of Taiwan Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also saw its director Zhou Zhihuai retired and replaced with Yang Mingjie, an expert on Sino-US relations from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations early this year.

This month, Zheng Shanjie, a Fujian native and deputy head of the National Energy Administration, joined TAO as its No 3 official.

On the sidelines of the annual congressional sessions in March, Chen Deming, Arats’ head, maintained that top Communist Party leaders including Xi and Yu Zhensheng, the mainland’s top political advisor, were both very happy with TAO’s work.