When 27-year-old Taiwanese make-up artist Andy Tao crossed the Taiwan Strait to take a job in Shanghai two years ago, it was for economic – not ideological – reasons. Tao said the job prospects in the metropolis were much greater than those on the island. “Working in Shanghai is more competitive, [but] the opportunities and rewards are bigger,” he said. “I came to the mainland not because of the grand cause of unification ... People my age care more about job opportunities than politics.” A Beijing-based fashion magazine editor from Taiwan had a similar view. “Most of us here would say we support cross-strait unification, but I doubt many of us would actually abandon freedom and democracy in order to embrace China,” the editor said. Tao and the editor are among the 2 million-plus Taiwanese – from students to businesspeople and their families – estimated to be living on the mainland, according to Taipei-based Global Views magazine. Beijing sees the island as a wayward province and has offered a host of benefits to “Taiwan compatriots” to win them over to embrace the mainland. But analysts say that Beijing’s sweeteners are unlikely to encourage young people from the democratic island to support cross-strait unification – at least in the near future. Taiwan ‘at the front line of threats’ from Beijing, Tsai Ing-wen tells US think tanks At a forum in Taipei on Monday examining mainland policies towards Taiwan, Lu Chen-wei, deputy secretary general of the Association of Strategic Foresight in Taipei, said Taiwanese who had come of age since the 1990s tended to see “Taiwan as Taiwan and China as China” and were unlikely to change their outlook despite inducements from Beijing. “Although they have been given preferential treatment while studying or working on the mainland, most of them would only pay lip service to such political dogma as ‘one country, two systems’, ‘cross-strait unification’, and the ‘1992 consensus’,” Lu said. “They would still stick to their belief that Taiwan and China are two different entities due mainly to their upbringing through the 1990s, when anything about China was largely taken out of Taiwanese history textbooks.” Lu was referring to a change in the focus of school textbooks away from the more than 5,000 years of Chinese history towards Taiwan’s sovereignty. Sovereignty for the island has been at the forefront of Beijing’s concerns since Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, became the island’s leader in 2016 and refused to accept the “1992 consensus”, an understanding that there is only “one China”, but each side will have its own interpretation of what constitutes “China”. China wants unification. What will Taiwan have to give up to keep its freedoms? Beijing regards the consensus as the foundation for cross-strait talks and has suspended official exchanges with the self-ruled island. But it has continued to encourage private exchanges, especially those involving young people from Taiwan. In addition to dozens of incentives unveiled in February last year, Beijing has lowered the criteria for Taiwanese students to study at leading mainland universities. “Mainland China is getting more and more pragmatic in offering more convenient ways for young Taiwanese to foster a greater sense of participation, achievement, honour and pleasure [in relation to the mainland],” Lu said. But Beijing also requires them to show support for the “one country, two systems”, cross-strait unification and the one-China principle to qualify for scholarships and other rewards. Lu said Beijing hoped to use its friendly overtures to young Taiwanese to change their mindset or at least “expand their [political] identity to include that of China”. “But apparently, it will take the Chinese mainland a much longer time and more effort to achieve its goal,” she said, adding most young people still do not support cross-strait unification and the one country, two systems model. Nevertheless, Taipei should not simply try to deter young people from the island from working on the mainland, according to Wang Chih-sheng, secretary general of the Cross-Strait Policy Association in Taipei. Wang said that given that more Taiwanese were crossing the strait in search of work, the government should provide more timely information for young people who wanted to make their living on the mainland.