Wang Yang, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership body, told officials from the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office to work to promote cross-strait unity and respond quickly to the “grave and complicated” situation, according to a report by the party mouthpiece People’s Daily.
However, unlike last year’s meeting he did not explicitly refer to the “peaceful unification of Taiwan” or the “one country, two systems” model.
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He told the office’s annual two-day work meeting, which finished on Monday: “We must use the increasing strengths and significant advantages in our system effectively when handling Taiwan affairs.”
Wang reiterated the mainland’s determination to “resolutely curb” the self-ruled island’s independence-leaning forces, urging officials to fight “separatist activities and interference by external forces, actively promote the peaceful and integrated development of cross-strait relations” and “celebrate the founding of the party with outstanding achievements”.
Four key measures to improve cross-strait relations were identified: allowing Taiwanese business leaders to take part in key economic projects; support for the authorities in Fujian – the province opposite Taiwan – in efforts to develop cross-strait integration; break down political barriers to integration; and develop policies to encourage more people from Taiwan to live and work on the mainland.
Taiwan and the mainland have been divided since the Communist victory in the civil war forced the defeated Nationalists to retreat to the island in 1949, and Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must eventually be reunited with the mainland – by force if necessary.
Cross-strait relations have deteriorated since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party in 2016. She has consistently refused to recognise the “1992 consensus” that recognised the one-China policy as the basis for cross-strait relations, saying it went against Taiwanese public opinion and interests.
Taipei-based military and political commentator Chi Le-yi said Wang’s political message aimed to give Beijing more room to adjust its Taiwan policy as it was not clear what approach US president-elect Joe Biden would take.
“Wang’s remarks indicated that Beijing is preparing some risk responses because the leadership feels a greater sense of crisis after the unusual and unpredictable experiences of the last year, including the[Covid-19] pandemic and the American intervention in [cross-strait] relations,” Chi said, referring to the Trump administration’s increasing closeness with Taipei.
“Beijing is waiting for the Biden administration’s US-Taiwan policy. I believe the mainland authorities will be able to come up with clear cross-strait measures after Biden’s announcement.”
Andrew Yang Nien-dzu, a former Taiwanese defence minister, said Wang’s remarks indicated that Beijing intendws to ease tensions across the Taiwan Strait, because President Xi Jinping did not want to become a “troublemaker” in Biden’s eyes.
“But the mainland will still maintain its ‘carrot and stick’ approach to Taiwan,” Yang said.
On Monday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said the People’s Liberation Army had sent three Y-8 surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft over the sea to the southwest of the island, forcing it to scramble fighter jets to shadow them.
Li Zhenguang, a professor at Beijing Union University’s Institute of Taiwan Studies, said the mainland would stick to its bottom line of not allowing Taiwan to follow any path towards legal or de facto independence.
“The principle of ‘one-China” is within the framework of ‘one country, two systems’,” Li said. “What Wang urged the mainland officials to do is to find some innovations and changes, and make progress in pushing cross-strait relations and exchanges. But it depends on whether the Taipei authorities are willing to cooperate.”
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