June 22, 2017 10:00 am JST

Beijing looks to throw Taiwan's leadership off balance

The mainland uses the Straits Forum to push its 'One China' policy

WATARU KODAKA and KENSAKU IHARA, Nikkei staff writers

Yu Zhengsheng(R), chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, meets with Hung Hsiu-chu, chairwoman of the Nationalist Party, Taiwan's main opposition party, in Xiamen on June 17.(Photo by Wataru Kodaka)

XIAMEN, China/TAIPEI Leading economic and cultural figures from China and Taiwan recently gathered in Xiamen, Fujian Province, to discuss expanding cross-strait exchanges. But for Beijing, the ninth Straits Forum, which kicked off on June 17, was less about building bridges and more about pushing its "One China" policy.

The yearly event began in 2006 as an economic forum between Taiwan and Fujian Province, and expanded to promote broader social exchanges in 2009. Over the course of a week, representatives exchange opinions on themes ranging from community to religion and marriage.

An official of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, however, says the actual purpose of the forum is to promote the economic and social "integration" of mainland China and Taiwan.

Such overtones are not hard to spot. Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's highest advisory body, met with Hung Hsiu-chu, chairwoman of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, Taiwan's main opposition party, in Xiamen on June 17.

Yu stressed that adherence to the "1992 Consensus" -- a verbal agreement that mainland China and Taiwan together constitute a single China -- and opposition to Taiwanese independence are key to ensuring peaceful relations between the two sides.

The refusal of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's administration to recognize the "One China" policy has prompted a backlash from Beijing. Panama, under pressure from China, severed diplomatic relations with the island on June 13. Closer to home, Beijing is looking to undermine Tsai's administration by cultivating closer ties with the China-friendly Kuomintang.

Speaking to Yu, Hung blamed Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party for the current sluggishness in cross-strait exchanges and said the Taiwanese people and business community want closer relations between the two sides.

The former administration, under the Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou, tried to revitalize the economy by building stronger economic ties with China. However, the island's economy continued to deteriorate despite the closer relationship, and public anger swept Tsai into office in 2016.

The Tsai administration's top priority is reducing economic dependence on China by strengthening cooperation with other countries, but it is an uphill battle. Exports make up 70% of Taiwan's real gross domestic product, and China, including Hong Kong, is the largest export destination. China accounted for about 38% of Taiwan's total exports in January-March 2016, before Tsai took office. It now hovers at around 40%.

China's economic influence on Taiwan remains strong -- when China sneezes, Taiwan catches a cold. As long as Taiwan remains economically dependent on the mainland, Beijing will be able to cause headaches for the island and its leaders.

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