23 March 2019
Taiwan faces increased bullying from China unless its government capitulates and follow in the footsteps of its Beijing-friendly predecessor. Photo: Bloomberg
Taiwan faces increased bullying from China unless its government capitulates and follow in the footsteps of its Beijing-friendly predecessor. Photo: Bloomberg

How Beijing’s divide-and-conquer approach to Taiwan works

Beijing is not above trickery and double standard when it comes to Taiwan.

It likes to warn foreign countries off its internal affairs but will not think twice about sticking its nose in Taipei’s backyard.

The latest example came during a high-profile visit by a group of Kuomintang politicians to Beijing.

The group of eight local government officials were met by no less than Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of China’s highest political advisory body, and Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs chief Zhang Zhijun.

The trip, ostensibly to discuss tourism and trade-related issues, had the appearance of a high-level visit by the mere presence of the senior Chinese leaders.

Note that the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang massively lost in the January election, which was dominated by the pro-independence allies of President Tsai Ing-wen, who won a resounding victory with more than 6.8 million votes.

But you’d be hard-pressed to see the Kuomintang visitors as anything outside the ambit of power in Taipei.

In what amounted to high-level official talks, Yu and Zhang pressed them on the so-called “1992 Consensus”, an informal understanding between Beijing and Taipei that leaves the notion of “one China” to each other’s interpretation.

Each side insists it’s the one and only China.

Zhang spoke for all, saying the delegates “recognize the 1992 Consensus and support peaceful development” of cross-strait relations.

Tha attendees agreed to make the 1992 Consensus a “common political foundation, regardless of changes in the situation”.

Overshadowed by the political sideshow was the signing of agreements on trade and tourism with adherence to the 1992 Consensus as a precondition.

In fact, what the Chinese officials did was cut a deal with a handful of opposition politicians, skirting the duly elected government in Taipei in hopes of pressuring it — and embarrassing it — into coming around to Beijing’s thinking.

The timing could not be more telling for Tsai.

Just weeks earlier, protests erupted in Taipei over her cross-strait policy which is being blamed for a dramatic fall in arrivals from the mainland.

It has caused a spike in unemployment in the tourism, catering and hospitality sectors not seen since she took office in May.

Beijing appears only too eager to watch Tsai implode, which is why it had the trade and tourism deal tightly wound around its “one China” policy.

And at the Rio Paralympics, China cold-shouldered Taiwan by insisting that the team drop the Taiwan national emblem from their track suit before the opening ceremony.

This is the kind of freeze-out Tsai faces for the rest of her term in office unless her government capitulates and go the way of her predecessor, the kiss-and-make-up Ma Ying-jeou.

But there’s an option.

Tsai could try to normalize ties with the mainland without preconditions and leave all other issues on the table. 

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EJ Insight writer

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