In Part 1, we discussed the genesis of One China policy and the Taiwan dispute with Mainland China which has festered for decades. We have also seen how the United States has dithered on political and diplomatic commitments to Taiwan’s independent identity question while militarily backing it in the name of self-defence. Simultaneously, Beijing has been exercising its influence to stealthily absorb Taiwan to reunite it with the mainland. Taiwan witnessed authoritarian rule with a one party system of KMT dominating the political scene till 1986 when President Chiang Ching-kuo allowed a two party system with the establishment of the Democratic Progressive Party. Democratic reforms were further bolstered under President Lee-Teng Hui who is known as the father of Taiwanese democracy. We must remember that PRC was negotiating the handover of Hong Kong from the UK during this time and opposing a similar representative system there while ironically citing its “leniency” with Hong Kong’s Special Administration Zone as an inducement for Taiwan’s unification with the mainland!
“The Taiwanese interpretation meant that One China is the Mainland China and Taiwan is an independent country, a view which has been proactively held by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), unlike the KMT which has been fairly amenable to the Chinese views.”
After Chiang Kai-shek’s death in 1975 and Mao a year later, China started to modernize under Deng in the 80’s even siding with the United States in the Cold War to an extent. It also tried to open a dialogue process with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and not exacerbate the dispute. The continued dialogue and China’s quest for its Dream 2049 made it buy temporary peace with Taiwan via 1992 Consensus (agreed between CCP in China and KMT in Taiwan) which essentially stated a One China on both sides of the Straits of Taiwan with both sides continuing to differ over the interpretation of One China. The Taiwanese interpretation meant that One China is the Mainland China and Taiwan is an independent country, a view which has been proactively held by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), unlike the KMT which has been fairly amenable to the Chinese views. Former Taiwanese president of KMT, Ma Ying Jeou even took Taiwan much closer to China economically and politically during his two terms signing over 20 deals with President Xi expanding the network of ties between Mainland China and Taiwan.
President Ma Ying also met President Xi in November 2016 in Singapore which was hailed as a sign of amity across the Strait of Taiwan. However, sentiments on the ground were quite different as protests had erupted in 2014 with student demonstrations against the ratification of Cross Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) that the KMT-led government had signed with China and was planning to ram through the legislature without detailed discussion. The CSSTA aimed at lifting trade restrictions between Taiwan and China and formalizing the existing business practises. It mandated the liberalization of 64 Taiwanese industries with Taiwan’s financial and retail industries being the primary beneficiaries. With Taiwan’s services industry comprising largely of SME’s with a 70% contribution to the country’s GDP, such a move would create asymmetrical competition and was highly skewed in favour of the large Chinese financial corporations. Further, the KMT-led government’s bypassing of democratic procedures was viewed as an affront to Taiwan’s dignity and equality with China.
The protests were known as “Sunflower Movement” with students occupying the Taiwanese parliament which ultimately saw the ratings of KMT plummet leading to its ouster and the election of Tsai Ing-Wen of DPP who won with a landslide victory in May 2016. President Tsai refused to officially endorse the 1992 Consensus causing a lot of ire in Beijing who has sought to use various means to contain the rise of pro-democratic voices in Taiwan as this reflects badly on the mainland and its control of other provinces. As public opinion in Taiwan gets more skewed towards independence away from One China principle, the Chinese have deployed various methods and tools to actively subvert these sentiments from United Front strategy, economic coercion to dollar diplomacy raising the stakes of an intra-strait dispute erupting into a conflict.
“Just like in Hong Kong, China is co-opting the KMT political elite of KMT by providing them with free trips to Mainland China to convince them of One China policy.”
United Front Works Department (UFWD) in Taiwan
Similar to Hong Kong, China has deployed the activities of CCP’s ‘United Front Works Department’ which President Xi called a magic weapon in 2017 Party Congress. United Front Work is a part of psychological warfare meant to win over people, intellectuals and civic groups to propagate CCP policies forwarding the Chinese Foreign policy. Just like in Hong Kong, China is co-opting the KMT political elite of KMT by providing them with free trips to Mainland China to convince them of One China policy. Beijing has been also co-opting former Taiwanese defence and intelligence personnel and other leading figures smartly instead of an aggressive military strategy. Many Taiwanese ex-generals and intelligence officers have also been invited by the PLA in an Officer’s Exchange to build people to people ties.
The Officers Exchange programme is sponsored by Huangpu Academy Alumni Association, an organization managed by UFWD. At a UFWD-hosted reception in January 2011, Vice Director You Lantian praised the Alumni Association for its “outstanding achievements in Taiwan work,” and expressed confidence that it would “continue to adhere to the policy of the central authorities for Taiwan work… and make new contributions for the peaceful reunification of the Motherland”. China is clearly following Sun Tzu’s Art of War which states “To attack the heart is the best. To attack a walled city is the worst”; with slow but extensive penetration in restive territories that it seeks to amalgamate with the mainland under its One China principle.
“China is clearly following Sun Tzu’s Art of War which states “To attack the heart is the best. To attack a walled city is the worst”; with slow but extensive penetration in restive territories that it seeks to amalgamate with the mainland under its One China principle.”
China’s Economic Coercion in Taiwan
Chinese creeping takeover of Taiwan also uses economic leverage and business ties with Taiwanese businessman to curry relationships to integrate Taiwan with the mainland. The expansive connect between the two economies gives China huge leverage as two-thirds of Taiwan’s economic output accounts for exports with Hong Kong and China’s share contributing 40%. China’s economy is an attractive destination for Taiwan’s hi-tech industry including semiconductors with China controlling the global supply chain of REE/REM’s. Chinese use of economic pressure is a known strategy. After the 2000 Taiwanese elections, Acer products were taken off the shelves in China as Acer’s boss had backed the pro-independence candidate in the Taiwanese polls. Similarly, Beijing had also tried to influence Taiwan’s Milkfish farmer constituency which is a pro-independence community in 2012 that yielded limited results.
“The Chinese policy of economic coercion is not just about stick but also the carrots it dangles from time to time like granting Taiwanese media companies access to the mainland and incentivizing them with expansion to self-censor or reduce the pro-independence content back home.”
After the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in May 2016 whose party DPP argued for an Independent Taiwan; China targeted Taiwan’s tourism sector by barring group tours from Taiwan into Mainland which Taiwan also reciprocated. The Chinese policy of economic coercion is not just about stick but also the carrots it dangles from time to time like granting Taiwanese media companies access to the mainland and incentivizing them with expansion to self-censor or reduce the pro-independence content back home. Recently, in January 2018, China’s cyber security department asked for the Marriot Hotels websites to be shut down for a week for showing Tibet and Taiwan as independent territories forcing Marriot hotel chain to correct the error and tender an apology to the Chinese government to reopen its businesses. Similar Orwellian demands have also been made in May 2018 to companies/brands like Zara, Qantas, Delta Airlines, Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa etc to not show Taiwan as an independent entity of Mainland China on its websites and bookings. Some American airlines have refused the diktats of China while others airlines, hotel chains have complied to protect its business in a major market like China. On July 5 this year, India’s national carrier Air India also changed the name of Taiwan to Chinese Taipei on its website resulting in an attack on India’s nationalist government by the citizens who called it kowtowing to Beijing. This is a glimpse of how China uses its economic leverage not only on Taiwanese businesses but even foreign entities and countries.
“MSS conducts counter intelligence, surveillance, information collection of dissidents and technological data collection like missiles etc which it passes to the PLA. MSS uses all possible means of collecting information including exploiting ethnic Chinese globally for their operations.”
China’s Military Intelligence Ops in Taiwan
Apart from Political Co-option and Economic Coercion, China has also deployed military intelligence techniques in Taiwan to pre-empt any separatist’s designs. MSS’s Taiwan operations are carried out from the 15th Bureau which is publically known as Institute of Taiwan Studies at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. MSS conducts counter intelligence, surveillance, information collection of dissidents and technological data collection like missiles etc which it passes to the PLA. MSS uses all possible means of collecting information including exploiting ethnic Chinese globally for their operations as we explained in our earlier article. Apart from MSS, PLA’s 2nd Department of General Staff Division (popularly alluded as China’s CIA) also carries out Chinese espionage operations in Taiwan. 2nd Department is famous for the case of Kuo, a Taiwanese American who was caught passing information about classified US arms sales to Taiwan to a Chinese agent Kang Yuxin revealed by the Taiwanese court. In addition to the above two agencies, the other departments that participate are CCP’s UFWD as discussed earlier and PLA’s General Political Department’s Liaison Office. The GPD/LO personnel are closely related to the elite families of China and its responsibilities as defined by PLA are “Conducting enemy disintegration and rallying friendly military work (jinxing wajie dijun, tuanjie youjun de gongzuo); develop Taiwan work; investigate and research the situation of foreign militaries, enemy militaries, and national separatists inside and outside China; and guide Chinese force’s conduct of psychological warfare research and training”.
“China’s claim to the legitimacy of One China is a reflection of Beijing’s insecurity towards its territorial integrity being challenged which has made China use multiple methods to subvert Taiwan’s democratic movement and slowly absorb the island of Formosa as part of the Chinese mainland.”
The Taiwan problem is one of China’s biggest Faultline that has the potential to erupt into a conflict. Unlike Hong Kong whose secession to China in 1997 was accepted internationally; Taiwan continues to remain and operate independently of China in foreign policy, diplomacy and economy. The major irritant for China in Taiwan is the assertion of democratic rights in the polls which cuts at the core of the CCP’s authoritarian rule and could provide a domino effect in other parts of China like Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang where ethnic and identity movements are rife. China’s claim to the legitimacy of One China is a reflection of Beijing’s insecurity towards its territorial integrity being challenged which has made China use multiple methods to subvert Taiwan’s democratic movement and slowly absorb the island of Formosa as part of the Chinese mainland. While it is easier said than done; China’s huge economic leverage and the ambiguity in the US response to Taiwanese sovereignty gives limited options for Taiwan’s assertion of independence. Nevertheless, this provides a potential flash point for conflict in the region to exploit. The only question is who will bell the cat?
- The Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement https://www.mac.gov.tw/en/News_Content.aspx?n=69EE7CEA8C7550BB&sms=D6D0A9E658098CA2&s=2129B397A168C5CA
- Taiwan’s Path to Independence: Resolving the “One China” Dispute by Kristine Yeh Koopman – https://cardozojcr.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CAC107_crop.pdf
- China’s Use of Coercive Economic Measures by Peter Harrell, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Edoardo Saravalle – Center for New American Security – https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/China_Use_FINAL-1.pdf?mtime=20180604161240
- China’s Espionage Against Taiwan (Part II): Chinese Intelligence Collectors https://jamestown.org/program/chinas-espionage-against-taiwan-part-ii-chinese-intelligence-collectors/
- Special Report: How China’s shadowy agency is working to absorb Taiwan https://mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKCN0JB01T20141127
- Retired Taiwan Officer Exchanges Offer Insight into a Modern “United Front” https://jamestown.org/program/retired-taiwan-officer-exchanges-offer-insight-into-a-modern-united-front/
- Marriott apologises to China over Tibet and Taiwan error https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/12/marriott-apologises-to-china-over-tibet-and-taiwan-error
- ‘Economic blackmail’: Zara, Qantas, Marriott and Delta Air Lines reverse position on Taiwan for fear of angering China https://www.businessinsider.in/Economic-blackmail-Zara-Qantas-Marriott-and-Delta-Air-Lines-reverse-position-on-Taiwan-for-fear-of-angering-China/articleshow/62535710.cms
- Airlines switching to ‘Taiwan, China’ despite White House’s rejection of ‘Orwellian nonsense’ – but US carriers hold out https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2147277/airlines-switching-taiwan-china-despite-white-houses
- Taiwan protests Air India move to change name to Chinese Taipei https://indianexpress.com/article/india/taiwan-protests-air-india-move-to-change-name-to-chinese-taipei-5247790/
- Chinese spy buy caught on surveillance video https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/mar/01/chinese-spy-buy-caught-on-video/