China is actively promoting economic opportunities for Taiwanese people while simultaneously increasing military activity around the island, which it claims as its own.
Experts suggest that this “carrots and sticks” approach reflects a choice between peaceful “reunification” and military aggression ahead of Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election.
This week, China unveiled a plan for an “integrated development demonstration zone” in its southeastern Fujian province, which is the closest province to Taiwan. However, Taipei vehemently rejects China’s sovereignty claims.
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As part of this plan, Beijing is encouraging Taiwanese companies to list on Chinese stock exchanges and promising better conditions for Taiwanese investors, as well as a more “relaxed” travel environment. These statements were made by the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, China’s Cabinet, in a statement released on Tuesday.
“The goal is to establish an integrated development demonstration zone in the entire area of Fujian province, showcasing the benefits of Fujian as the preferred destination for Taiwanese individuals and enterprises seeking development on the mainland,” said Pan Xianzhang, deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, during a news conference on Thursday.
This economic initiative comes at a time when China has increased its military activity around Taiwan. On Thursday, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported the sighting of 68 Chinese warplanes and 10 warships near the island in the past 24 hours, with 40 of the aircraft entering Taiwan’s air defense zone. These frequent incursions are perceived as threats to Taiwan’s government, which Beijing regards as “separatist.”
Earlier this week, China sailed an aircraft carrier 70 miles southeast of Taiwan.
Pairing economic incentives with military coercion towards Taiwan is a tactic that China has employed for a long time, according to Drew Thompson, a research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
Many of the policies highlighted in the Fujian plan, such as facilitating travel for Taiwanese citizens to the mainland, were already in place, indicating that the initiative is more symbolic than substantial, Thompson added.
“Ultimately, this is not a genuine economic integration plan between China and Taiwan,” said Thompson. “It’s a political tool designed to create divisions between the ruling party and those segments of the electorate that likely do not support the ruling party.”
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Taiwan is preparing for presidential elections in January. The current Vice President William Lai, who is the front-runner, is seen by Beijing as a separatist. China has refused to engage in talks with Lai’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party, which has been in power since 2016.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council stated that the document released by China is merely a compilation of existing policies and measures.
“It is delusional to think that our citizens and enterprises can be seduced into accepting the leadership of the Communist Party and integrating into their system, laws, and norms,” the council said.
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The council also urged Beijing to respect Taiwan’s commitment to freedom and democracy.
Some of the measures mentioned in the announcement focus on outlying Taiwanese islands, such as Matsu and Kinmen, which are closer to Fujian province than Taiwan’s main island. Chinese state media have highlighted the role these islands should play in enhancing bilateral ties.
However, news of the announcement seems to have gone unnoticed in Matsu. When contacted, a coffee shop owner claimed to be unaware of the measures and hadn’t been following the news.
Carlk Tsao, who manages a bed and breakfast on the islands, also expressed unfamiliarity with the new Fujian economic integration plan. “Usually, we in Matsu don’t pay attention to these things,” he said. “Personally, I believe they are just empty promises.”
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