To What Extent Have China's Recent Policies with Taiwan Promoted Better Cross-Strait Relations?

To What Extent Have China's Recent Policies with Taiwan Promoted Better Cross-Strait Relations?

Relations across the Taiwan Straits have been unprecedentedly peaceful since KMT returned to power in 2008. The consistent stance of anti-independence of both the KMT and the CCP has allowed more avenues of dialogues and openness across the straits. Therefore, China is now extending more friendliness towards this renegade state to prevent Taiwan from separating from the mainland. China’s recent soft policies towards Taiwan have been successful in promoting peaceful cross-strait relations as there are now more communication and interaction between them on the social, cultural and economic levels. However, the extent of success can be improved in the long term with more interaction and more freedom from China on the political scale, which is primarily the fundamental core of the problems.

China’s policy of engaging Taiwan economically has promoted more peaceful cross-strait ties as both parties have benefits in place to avoid mutually destructive tensions. The Chinese economy has been growing rapidly at an average of 10% per annum, while Taiwan’s economy has been on the decline, which is also affecting socio-political stability recently. Understanding the urgent need for Taiwanese policy makers to revive its economy, China is using its economic advantage to pull the island out of its predicament. The signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in June 2010 is a milestone for cross-strait trade relations; the other milestone would be the Three Direct Links in November 2008. Taiwan’s economy has seen some light of hope in recent years as trade and tourism across the straits flourished. This has also increased communication and interaction between them. The lure of the booming Chinese economy is so strong, even pan-Green politicians have been opening its cities to Chinese trade, such as Tainan and Kaohsiung. Therefore, lucrative economic policies are platforms for cross-straits rapprochement as both parties are becoming more connected economically. In fact, Taiwan’s economy revived with increased trade and tourism across the straits. However, some critics from the pan-Green camp contest these economic policies as a way of coercing Taiwan into depending on the mainland for good. This may pose a political danger for the ruling KMT, which seeks to further establish better ties with the mainland in future. Nonetheless, China’s soft approach of using economic policies to engage has been successful as exchanges between Taiwan and China have increased tremendously over the past few years.

China’s policy of connecting the peoples through religions and culture has met with success as the Taiwanese and Chinese are beginning to break down barriers to facilitate more understanding. Breaking down social barriers and to reconnect the Taiwanese with the Chinese roots is a soft approach used by the CCP for rapprochement. Using the main religion and beliefs of the Taiwanese, Buddhism and the worship of Ma Tzu have been promoted in the mainland, hoping to draw some religious-cultural links from both sides of the straits. The most prominent being the 2006 and 2009 World Buddhist Forums held in Hangzhou and Wuxi respectively. Buddhist communities from both sides of the straits are drawn closer culturally and religiously with more understanding. This move may pose to be more useful in promoting better cross-strait ties in the long run as religions resonate more with the Taiwanese. This also shows China’s unprecedented tolerance toward religions. Similarly, art has also been used as a symbolic means of reconnecting both sides of the straits peacefully. The recent re-joining of the near 1000 year old painting, Dwelling on the Fu Chun Mountain, was displayed in Taipei. This action was significant as it symbolizes the rapprochement of cross-strait relations. Although China’s much softer approaches of using art and religions to bind the peoples across the straits have no pragmatic value to it, the deeper symbolism is of long term value to promoting better cross-strait relations.

By allowing more international space for Taiwan, China is showing more tolerance and patience on cross-strait relations, reducing tensions on the international scale. One important step in showing leeway for Taiwan is China’s restraints on its criticisms on the former’s request for more international space. By allowing this to happen, China is giving Taiwan more autonomy on its part, giving the latter opportunities to develop its socio-economic growth. Most notably Taiwan was allowed a high profiled delegation, represented by high level KMT officials during the 2008 Beijing Olympics; Taiwan’s request to be an observer state at the World Health Assembly during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak was not blocked by China. This extension of olive leaf is rather effective in promoting peaceful cross-strait relations as some of these policies are backed by humane reasons, showing that Chinese government cares for the people of Taiwan. However, it must be noted that the Chinese government’s policy on giving Taiwan more international space is more ad-hoc and short term rather than long term. Moreover, China is treading carefully on these policies as too much international space may send the wrong message to the international community and Taiwan, that it is seeing the island as a separate country. Most notably, when Taiwan tried vying for a UN seat, it was rebuked by the Chinese government for separation sentiments. In view of this, China’s policy of allowing more international space for Taiwan is an effective approach, yet it is not a feasible one in the long run.

Although China’s soft approaches towards Taiwan might have been effective in promoting peaceful cross-strait relations thus far, the effectiveness may have been limited as both parties have not been addressing the core of the problems revolving politics and military factors.

China’s policies have to move towards the political scale to further improve cross-strait relations in the long run, as this is the real core of the issue. Communication between both parties has thus far been limited to economics, culture and religion. Talks between leaderships of the mainland and the island have never materialized, and such ideas have been avoided till now. Rather, representatives from non-governmental organizations and the academic circle sanctioned by both governments have been negotiating and communicating on their behalf. The Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) and the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) have been paving the way for peace across the straits through dialogues. Furthermore, the policy of “economics first, politics last” from both governments is not addressing the core issue, which would limit long term rapprochement. Long term peace can only be achieved when both leaders meet to come to a consensus on the core issues, and not rely on proxies for negotiations that address other problems. However, this would be a daunting task for both governments, as political issues between both parties are complex. The cross-strait issue is a remnant of the Cold War, and it would be a challenge to each party’s ruling governments to discuss rapprochement, as it would most certainly have repercussions on their domestic stability and legitimacy. In short, discussion on the political scale to resolve cross-strait tensions may still not be feasible today, yet it is still essential in attaining a resolution in the years to come.

China’s recent policies are also limited in creating better cross-strait ties as military threats toward Taiwan is still imminent, thus preventing peace process across the straits. Long term rapprochement for cross-strait relation may not be possible so long as the imminent military threat from the mainland is not removed. Taiwan is still the target of 1,000 odd missiles from the mainland as a preventive measure against the island’s separation. Furthermore, the 2005 Anti-Secession Law justifies the use of military force against Taiwan’s break away. These policies from the mainland is still creating tension at the Taiwan Straits, limiting the effectiveness of the soft policies implemented thus far, as many Taiwanese still view the mainland as a hegemon. By acting assertively and aggressively against Taiwan, the Taiwanese would continue to be skeptical against the mainland, and not call for long term rapprochement. The continued purchase of weapons from the USA to Taiwan shows that the island is still wary of China’s motives, when calls from the Taiwanese President for the removal of military threat are constantly ignored. In the long run, the vicious cycle of suspicion may not be easily removed, so long as military threat is still in existence. However, the removal of military threat against Taiwan may not be feasible in the short run as the pro-independent groups in the island are still very active. Moreover, China has to be assertive and aggressive as the unity of the country has implications on the long term legitimacy of the CCP. Given the existing and immediate threat of pro-independence movements in Taiwan today on the survival of the party, it is highly unlikely that military threats would be removed.

China’s recent policies with Taiwan have been mostly soft approaches and have been very effective in promoting a more peaceful cross-strait relationship. There have been more interactions and communication on the economic, social and cultural scale than previously seen. Moreover, these policies have helped to break down walls of misunderstanding which used to plague cross-strait relations. However, China still maintains the use of hard power against Taiwan, and both parties have not been addressing the core political issues plaguing them since 1949. These limitations are flaws to the current policies adopted by China in promoting better ties across the straits. Therefore, China has to reduce military threats and step up political talks with Taiwan, and at the same time continue accelerating current economic and socio-cultural policies.