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Taiwan

Is Beijing planning to take Taiwan back ... by force?

The mainland is refining the tactics that could pave the way for a forcible seizure of the self-ruled island, according to a senior adviser

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 12:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 11:20pm

Beijing is mapping out specific tactics to lure Taiwan into its orbit and possibly pave the way for forcible seizure of the self-ruled island, although there is no timetable for such a drastic move, according to a senior mainland Taiwan affairs adviser.

Li Yihu, dean of Peking University’s Taiwan Studies Institute, said Beijing was reinforcing its “carrot and stick” approach to dealing with Taiwan’s independence forces after passing historic constitutional amendments on Sunday to remove presidential term limits on the mainland. 

Beijing has been using economic sweeteners or “carrots” such as offers of better paying jobs, access to bigger markets and equal treatment to lure Taiwanese to the mainland.

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Analysts have cautioned that if the sweeteners fail to work, the mainland could bring down its “stick” – moving to forcibly seize the wayward island.

Li said that although he doubted that Xi had set a timetable for a Taiwan takeover, the Taiwan issue would remain prominent on the leader’s agenda. 

“Cross-strait unification is more urgent when the mainland’s economic power is rising,” Li said. Beijing’s involvement in the Taiwan issue has strengthened in tandem with the mainland’s growth. 

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Resolving the “Taiwan problem” is seen as a major step in achieving Xi’s goal of “national rejuvenation”. 

Li said that as a result the mainland was turning Xi’s Taiwan-related strategies into detailed tactics in various areas – including the economy, politics, the military, culture, society and even the judicial sector – with some already being implemented. 

The moves come on the heels of the Beijing-based Taiwan Affairs Office’s February announcement of 31 policies smoothing the way for greater Taiwan-mainland integration, including 12 measures related to business and 19 to social and employment issues. 

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Unlike the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Beijing and Taipei in 2010 that lowered tariffs for Taiwanese businesses, the new measures were intended to put Taiwanese companies and residents on an equal footing with their mainland-based counterparts. 

Li said Beijing had also looked into ways to deal with tactical-level challenges from the island’s independence forces. 

Analysts have speculated that a vote by the mainland’s legislature to repeal presidential term limits, allowing the president to stay on past 2023, will empower Xi to take a tougher approach to Taiwan by forcibly taking back the island. 

“Resolving the Taiwan dilemma” would also clear the decks for the 2020 launch of Xi’s push to build China into a leading innovation nation via the “two 15-year plans”. 

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Beijing plans to spend the first 15 years of this two-part undertaking transforming China into a top innovation nation. By 2035 it is to have a large middle-income population and a narrowed wealth gap. 

The government is to spend another 15 years driving China’s evolution into a pioneering global influence by 2050. 

Huang Zhixian, chairman and Communist Party chief of the All-China Federation Of Taiwan Compatriots, a civilian group that focuses on Taiwanese living on the mainland, said Beijing would prefer to use peaceful means to reunify Taiwan. 

As part of the federation’s effort to help Beijing engage the Taiwanese public, it would invite ordinary people from southern Taiwan, the power base of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, to take part in various mainland social and cultural exchanges, Huang said. 

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Some 70 per cent of the island’s grass roots had never visited the mainland, he said. 

General Han Weiguo, a People’s Liberation Army ground force chief who spent more than 30 years stationed in Fujian province, across the Taiwan Strait from the island, said the PLA hoped Taiwan’s problem could be solved peacefully, as soon as possible. 

“Taiwan should be unified, not by force, but peaceful means,” Han said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “But that doesn’t mean the problem could be postponed indefinitely. It should be solved as quickly as possible.” 

Taipei needed to appreciate the urgency of resolving the issue, Han said. 

Taipei-based political commentator Wang Hsing-ching – better known by his pseudonym, Nan Fangshuo – said the mainland’s recently announced 31 integration measures would deal the island’s independence-leaning forces a setback. 

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“Beijing’s economic power is now so powerful in the international community,” he said. “It’s a fact that Tsai’s administration couldn’t do anything due to its weakness, causing more and more Taiwanese talent to seek better job opportunities on the mainland.” 

The commentator said he also feared Beijing’s sweeteners would siphon away the DPP’s political leaders and grass-roots supporters.