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Politics

China offers 5G olive branch to Taiwan as island's election nears

Beijing opts for carrots over sticks as Tsai leads pro-mainland rival

Han Kuo-yu of Taiwan's opposition party KMT is trailing in polling for next year's presidential race.   © Reuters

BEIJING/TAIPEI -- China will grant Taiwanese businesses greater access to build the mainland's 5G infrastructure, Beijing said Monday, one of 26 new measures seen as incentives to sway the outcome of the island's presidential election in January.

"The opportunities to develop the mainland will be shared with our Taiwanese compatriots," the Chinese State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office said.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, representing the Beijing-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party, is strongly favored to win re-election. The new measures seem designed to boost her China-friendly opponent, who faces negative press related to the monthslong Hong Kong protests.

Along with projects for fifth-generation wireless networks, Beijing also will offer Taiwanese companies equal access compared with mainland counterparts for participating in areas such as civil aviation and theme parks.

Taiwanese financial groups will be allowed to set up financing, leasing and other units in mainland areas with high concentrations of enterprises from the island.

Taiwanese individuals can receive further assistance in buying real estate on the mainland, and entrance requirements for Chinese universities will be relaxed.

Tsai enjoys a 17-point lead over Han Kuo-yu, the candidate for the opposition Kuomintang, a poll published Monday by local newspaper Apple Daily shows.

In keeping with Beijing's intentions, the Hong Kong government has struck a hard line against the pro-democracy demonstrators. Taiwanese voters witnessing the response have come to believe they also will be on the receiving end of harsh treatment if the island politically unites with the mainland.

The sentiment has benefited Tsai's party, while Han's rhetoric has drawn concern from voters.

The 26 measures reportedly result from the recent plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee. Officials apparently decided to offer incentives favorable to Kuomintang, which supports cross-strait economic exchange.

In February 2018, the Taiwan Affairs Office announced a similar group of 31 incentives. Kuomintang enjoyed a victory in local elections that November.

Beijing previously employed sticks rather than carrots. In August, China started banning individual travel to the island, citing "Taiwan independence" activities by Tsai's administration. The following month, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati switched their diplomatic allegiance to Beijing from Taipei.

Yet Taiwanese companies are reluctant to expand or invest in the mainland due to the U.S.-China trade war, said Meng Chih-Cheng, an associate professor of political science at Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University.

The 26 measures "will not significantly move public opinion," Meng said.

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