The meetings that take place behind closed doors, where secret deals and co-optation by United Front organizations occur, is where we need to look. The platitudes that are traded off at the Forum are mainly propaganda for domestic consumption back in China.
Hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese are gathered in Xiamen, Fujian Province, this week to attend the annual Straits Forum (海峽論壇), a Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-organized love fest first held in 2009 to promote cultural and economic exchanges between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) sent a small delegation to attend the opening ceremony. Representatives from the People First Party and pro-unification New Party, as well as Deputy Taipei Mayor Teng Chia-chi, Penghu County Commissioner Lai Feng-wei, Kinmen County Commissioner Yang Cheng-wu and Lienchiang County Commissioner Liu Cheng-ying are also present at the event, now in its 11th year, which opened on June 15 and closes on June 21.
According to Chinese authorities, “The Straits Forum is a civilian, grass-roots event that serves to strengthen cross-strait cooperation — a common aspiration of all people from across the Taiwan Strait.” An Fengshan, spokesman for the State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), said that “more than 10,000 people from Taiwan” — an almost certainly inflated figure, to say the least — had registered to attend the event despite the “suppression” by the Taiwanese government, which recently implemented new restrictions in April barring local government officials from representing the government in political negotiations with China, signing agreements, or forging alliances with entities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that go against Taiwan’s national interest.
The new regulations were largely in response to Beijing’s intensifying efforts to atomize Taiwan by bypassing central government institutions in Taiwan, a strategy that began during the second term of the Ma Ying-jeou administration and has intensified under President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Following local elections on Nov. 24 last year, a number of municipalities, including Kaohsiung and Taichung, who elected KMT mayors, immediately recognized the so-called “1992 consensus,” defying the Tsai government’s policy on the matter.
Of course An, the propagandist par excellence on all things cross-Strait, failed to mention that the supposed “grass-roots” event involved TAO chief Liu Jieyi, as well as a talk on Sunday by China’s top political advisor, Wang Yang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, who among other things told the audience that “the times and trends are all in favor of the forces supporting the reunification and national rejuvenation.”
On the basis of adhering to the “1992 consensus” and opposing “Taiwan independence,” Wang said, China is willing to engage in extensive and in-depth dialogue and consultation with parties, organizations and individuals from Taiwan to resolve differences, seek common ground and move toward the goal of peaceful reunification step by step. “We are willing to create broad space for peaceful reunification, but will definitely not leave any leeway to ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist activities at all.”
No politics at all here.
At the 4th “Cross-Strait Media People Summit” (兩岸媒體人峰會/兩岸媒體人北京峰會) held in Beijing in May, Wang called on the 70-plus Taiwanese representatives from the media industry that it was their “responsibility” to promote “peaceful reunification,” the so-called “1992 consensus” and the “one country, two systems” formula.
United Front Work activities have been at the heart of Beijing’s strategy to erode Taiwan’s democratic institutions, co-opt officials, businesspeople and people in the media industry, and weaken the cohesion of Taiwanese society.
Using a constellation of “civic” organizations, many of them with ties to the CCP or China’s intelligence apparatus, United Front Work (UFW) activities have been at the heart of Beijing’s strategy to erode Taiwan’s democratic institutions, co-opt officials, businesspeople and people in the media industry, and weaken the cohesion of Taiwanese society. Much of its activities have occurred under the guise of cultural exchanges, religion, education and business, largely to conceal the CCP’s political work.
The apolitical nature of the forum was also on full display when Huang Chih-hsien, a talk show host on the reliably pro-China CtiTV and sister of Tainan Mayor Huang Wei-cher of the DPP, spoke in favor of unification and the “one country, two systems.” Urging both sides to talk, Huang Chih-hsien said that “Our generation of 1.4 billion Chinese will take Taiwan home and back to China,” adding that the “one country, two systems” framework — an unmitigated disaster in Hong Kong — affords Taiwan “the greatest respect and consideration” but that the Taiwanese “simply do not understand.”
Fined by Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) for spreading disinformation, CtiTV is one of the many media outlets owned by the Want Want China Times Group, whose chairman, Tsai Eng-meng, led Taiwan’s delegation to the Cross-Strait Media People Summit in May. Want Want has also co-hosted various forums and media exchanges over the years, in many instances with Chinese counterparts that have suspected ties to China’s UFW and intelligence apparatus. Reports earlier this year revealed that Want Want China Holdings has received NT$15.26 billion (US$495 million) in subsidies from the People’s Republic of China since 2007. Its annual report for the 2017-2018 period shows it received RMB 624 million (NT$2.9 billion) in subsidy income from “various government authorities” in China during the January 2017 to March 2018 period alone.
The Forum is also one of a handful of events, all held in China, where likeminded individuals — or individuals say what it expected of them in such contexts — meet to promote cross-Strait collaboration and, ultimately, unification. Like other events of its kind, it is little more than an echo chamber, a rather pathetic one at that, where time after time speakers regurgitate propaganda that has little relationship with reality back in Taiwan and is only believed by the most extremist of types in Taiwan, such as the China Unification Promotion Party (CUPP), New Party and Taiwan Red Party. There, all are ostensibly on the same page on matters such as the need to recognize the “1992 consensus,” a construct which over the years had allowed the two sides — at least when the KMT was in power — to “set aside differences” by agreeing to disagree on the idea which lies at the heart of the “consensus,” namely that there is only “one China” but that both sides disagree on what this means.
Such word plays may have worked under Hu Jintao, but under his successor, Xi Jinping, the fuzziness has been flushed out, and there is no doubt that in his mind — and therefore at Zhongnanhai — “one China” means the PRC, full stop. Furthermore, as his Jan. 2 address to “Taiwanese compatriots” made perfectly clear, agreeing to the “1992 consensus” now directly submits to recognition that unification is to occur under the “one country, two systems” formula, an idea so unpalatable to the Taiwanese that even the more Beijing-inclined KMT felt compelled to state its inapplicability in Taiwan. Even Kaohsiung Mayor and prospective presidential candidate for the KMT, Han Kuo-yu, stated his opposition — if we can believe anything that he says — to “one country, two systems,” saying that such an outcome would only occur “over my dead body.” The disconnect is such, in fact, that even before Xi established his firmer lines on Taiwan, the CCP was already bemoaning the KMT’s lack of commitment to unification, a reality that has played a large role in Beijing’s decision since 2014 to work more closely with grassroots, co-opted local politicians and independents across Taiwan.
Municipal officials, party members and individuals in the media industry, for example, who attend such functions in China must be scrutinized to ensure they are not involved in activities that compromise Taiwan’s national security.
KMT spokesman Ouyang Lung, who earlier this week criticized Taipei’s decision to impose stricter rules on cross-Strait exchanges and stated that “The forum is a platform for grass-roots exchanges on many subjects, from employment and business issues to young people, religion and culture,” was himself a direct casualty of his party’s refusal to support “one country, two systems” earlier this year when, in likely retaliation for his voicing the party’s concerns following Xi’s remarks on Jan. 2, his daughter, Nana, became the latest in a long list of targets of Chinese Netizens who accused her of supporting the Falun Gong spiritual movement — the implicit threat being that the young female actress and musician should not be allowed to make a career in China (like many before her, the young artist was forced to release a statement in which she celebrated her Chineseness).
The KMT goes through the motions, sends delegates to cross-Strait Forums and nods to the “1992 consensus,” but fundamentally its mainstream engages in such behavior mostly to distinguish itself from the more Beijing-skeptic DPP and therefore hope to get an advantage in the upcoming elections by presenting itself as the more “rational” actor on cross-Strait matters. Already, one of its members, KMT legislator Shen Jhih-hwei, who spoke at the Forum backtracked on her remarks, claiming she was misquoted and never said she supported “one country, two systems,” although her slides certainly referenced many of the memes, such as “shared destiny,” used by Xi over the years. That’s the echo chamber for you, the ticket for entry at such events. Much of what goes on in there is theater, many on the Taiwan side saying things they probably don’t believe in. This gets used by the CCP for propaganda purposes, no doubt, but the effectiveness of such endeavors, and its effect on “brainwashing” Taiwanese, are very much in doubt.
Still, municipal officials, party members and individuals in the media industry, for example, who attend such functions in China must be scrutinized to ensure they are not involved in activities that compromise Taiwan’s national security. With all due respect to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, who earlier this week opined that people have been making too big of a deal of United Front Work activities, it’s exactly that, the meetings that take place behind closed doors and beyond the public’s view, where deals and promises and co-optation by UFW-linked entities occur, which is the most troublesome; the platitudes that are traded off at the Forum, and which are widely reported on Xinhua, in the China Times and elsewhere, that we need not worry too much about, as it’s mainly show for domestic consumption back in China.
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