Beijing reaches out to young Taiwanese with summertime sweeteners

Groups from primary and high schools have been invited to visit mainland during vacation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 2:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 August, 2017, 11:32pm

Beijing is actively reaching out to younger Taiwanese this summer after giving up on top-level contacts with the island’s administration.

With Taiwanese still enjoying freedom of movement despite strained cross-strait relations, local authorities on the mainland have invited many Taiwanese grass-roots leaders and students to visit the mainland for a variety of activities in the past year. They’ve included cultural and education events, interschool contests, research on community service and elderly health care, internships and seminars on job creation and business start-ups – anything that could appeal to ordinary Taiwanese, and especially younger islanders.

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And the invitations have been arriving more frequently since the summer vacation started in July, with more than a dozen Taiwanese groups, including some from primary and high schools, reported to have been invited to visit the mainland.

Analysts say it’s evidence that Beijing is stepping up efforts to woo younger Taiwanese.

“Beijing has given up hope on the Taiwanese authorities and has instead devoted itself to promoting economic and social integration by way of the grass-roots and youth sectors,” said Pang Chien-kuo, a professor of mainland studies at Taipei’s Chinese Culture University.

Cross-strait ties – cordial when Ma Ying-jeou of the mainland-friendly Kuomintang was the island’s president between 2008 and 2016 – have soured since Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party won the presidency in May last year and refused to accept the “1992 consensus” which Beijing regards as its bedrock.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province subject to eventual unification, by force if necessary, insists that the consensus is the sole political foundation for the continuation of cross-strait exchanges and talks. The consensus refers to an understanding reached in 1992 that allows the two sides to continue to talk as long as they recognise that there is only one China, though each can have its own interpretation of what that stands for.

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Pang said that after Tsai refused to embrace the consensus, Beijing decided to devote more resources to reaching out to Taiwan’s younger generation and grass-roots sectors in Taiwan, believing that was more practical than continuing with the economic enticements offered during Ma’s time as president.

News reports have said the mainland authorities were forced to rethink their policy following the sunflower movement in Taiwan in 2014, which saw students and local civic groups protest against a proposed cross-strait service trade pact and question Ma’s mainland engagement policy, which he had said would benefit all Taiwanese people.

Ni Yongjie, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Taiwan Studies, said Beijing’s “one generation and one stratum” strategy was a broadening of the “three middle and one youth” strategy it had promoted in 2015 to reach out to residents of central and southern Taiwan, middle- and low-income families, small and medium-sized enterprises, and young people.

He said ordinary residents of various parts of Taiwan, including the islands of Penghu, Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Strait, as well as all frontline grass-roots workers, including those from the agricultural, fisheries and other sectors, would be targeted.

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Ni said the opportunities created by Beijing’s “Belt and Road” trade-development initiative had enabled it to approach young Taiwanese eager for jobs and start-up prospects.

Taiwanese and mainland Chinese media have reported that the mainland authorities have stepped up efforts to attract Taiwanese teenagers with summer camps and lowered the minimum test score standards for Taiwanese high school students applying for places at mainland universities.

The Taipei-based China Times said the authorities in Shanghai had recently offered prize money equivalent to NT$12 million (US$397,000) in a business start-up contest for Taiwanese youths, with the winner to be given a cash prize of NT$1 million plus a start-up subsidy of NT$2.5 million.

The pro-DPP Liberty Times, also based in Taipei, reported that the mainland authorities had opened 53 youth start-up bases and showcase locations as part of their “united front operations to solicit young Taiwanese”.

DPP legislators have expressed concern about such exchanges.

“It is rather clear that China wants to use this to solicit support from the Taiwanese public in the hope of isolating the government step-by-step,” DPP legislator Lo Chih-cheng said.

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Yu Tzu-hsiang, head of the college of journalism and communications at Shih Hsin University in Taipei, said Beijing believed the revised strategy would appeal to more Taiwanese, and that after they gained first-hand experience on the mainland they could help “dispel the misconceptions about China held by ordinary Taiwanese”.

Chen Yao-tzung, a former head of the Civil Servants Association of Taiwan Provincial Government, who recently led 33 neighbourhood leaders from the central Taiwanese city of Taichung on a six-day visit to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, concurred.

“The visit was rather useful as we were able to exchange views on community administration experiences,” Chen said, adding his group hoped to strengthen such exchanges in the future.