Beijing has unveiled a plan to further integrate Taiwan with a coastal province in China, in what appears to be a playbook for taking control of the island in an attempt to “completely reunify” the two nations.
“Solving the Taiwan issue and realizing the complete reunification of the motherland is the unswerving historical task of the Communist Party of China,” the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and the State Council plan states. “Fujian has a unique position and role in the overall situation of Taiwan.”
Beijing intends Fujian province to serve as a “demonstration zone” for further integration with Taiwan, the plan states.
According to the state-run Global Times, “the document is equivalent to outlining the future development blueprint of Taiwan.”
The plan, which is aimed at enhancing economic and social ties between Fujian province and Taiwan, encourages Taiwanese firms to list on Chinese stock exchanges to “participate in the development of the mainland’s financial market” and outlines plans to make it easier for Taiwanese workers and families to live and work in Fujian.
Taiwanese students will be able to enroll in schools in Fujian, and the plan encourages people in Taiwan to purchase property in the province. The plan also suggests enhancing access to “institutional guarantees” and social welfare programs for Taiwanese, including those that touch on employment, medical care, and elderly care.
The plan states it will also explore joint electricity and gas projects between Xiamen, a port city in Fujian, and Kinmen, an outlying island of Taiwan. Projects on water, electricity, gas, and bridges between Fuzhou, the largest city in Fujian province, and Matsu, another island under Taiwan’s jurisdiction, are also a part of the plan. Beijing intends for passenger and freight routes between Fujian and Taiwan to “intensify” as well.
This is just the latest economic and cultural building block in Beijing’s attempt to force closer ties with Taiwan amid a broader push from China for “reunification,” even though Taipei has rejected China’s sovereignty claims for years.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
The vision represents what China likely views as a carrot, or reward, for Taiwan in exchange for cooperation with Beijing’s goals on reunification, said Timothy Heath, who previously worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and as an analyst of the Chinese Navy for the Office of Naval Intelligence.
“China views this plan as an incentive and as a way to lay the groundwork for possible unification,” Heath, now a senior international defense researcher at RAND, told The Daily Beast. “That is their hope.”
The plan also suggests Taiwan and Fujian should build joint collaboration on agriculture, fashion, scientific innovation, cultural exchanges, and sports exchanges for youth populations—namely for baseball and softball—as well.
Beijing urges creatives in Taiwan and Fujian to cooperate to create fashion brands with “national characteristics” and for producers to develop films and television together to “promote integrated development in the cultural field.” They should “jointly promote Chinese culture and promote the protection, inheritance, innovation and development of China’s excellent traditional culture,” the plan states.
The so-called blueprint notes that all of these programs should be sure to “uphold and strengthen the party’s overall leadership.”
“It is a cover to win over and entice our people.”
And while the plan is aimed at painting a picture of reunification without military action, China has grown increasingly aggressive and coercive towards Taiwan in recent months. Just this week, China has sent the largest number of warships in years to waters near Taiwan, in an intimidation tactic that could be aimed at showing the contrast between a seemingly peaceful “reunification” and military advances.
As part of the apparent massive drill, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent a carrier strike group, led by the aircraft carrier Shandong, near Taiwan’s south, with dozens of accompanying warplanes, early this week. Taiwan’s defense ministry said 35 warplanes were detected Wednesday, 28 of which crossed the median line between China and Taiwan. Taipei said it was forced to prepare combat air patrol aircraft, navy vessels, and land-based missile systems to respond.
Since, that number has only grown. 68 PLA aircraft and 10 PLA Navy vessels were spotted around Taiwan on Thursday, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense. China’s Air Force crossed into Taiwan’s southwest or southeast air defense identification zone Thursday.
The “blueprint” for integration with Taiwan comes just months after U.S. officials warned that China is preparing to invade Taiwan by 2027, according to U.S. intelligence.
The plan is trying to “lure” Taiwan “into surrendering,” Su Tzu-yun, an analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, told The Daily Beast.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is practicing old wine in new bottles. The two-handed strategy has been practiced since the time of the Chinese Civil War,” Su said. “The current ‘use of emotions to promote integration’ and so on are all the same old tricks.”
The reception of the plan in Taiwan has been less than enthusiastic.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which manages Taipei’s policy towards China, called the plan “totally wishful thinking,” and accused Beijing of trying to use Taiwanese business to boost its economy.
It is “a cover to win over and entice our people and companies to go to the mainland and integrate into its systems, regulations and norms, to accept the Communist Party’s leadership,” the council said. “This is obviously an attempt to attract Taiwanese funds and talents to mainland China to boost its internal economy.”
Wang Ting-yu, a Taiwanese lawmaker, said that the plan was “ridiculous,” according to CNN.
Beijing has worked to “integrate” Taiwan for years through economic plans similar to this one, without making much of a dent in Taiwanese sentiments towards “reunification” with China.
In 2018, for instance, Beijing announced its so-called 31 Taiwan preference policies, which Taiwan decried as measures that served to “benefit Taiwan in name but serve the interests of the Mainland in reality.” Taiwanese businesspeople reported feeling little benefit from the economic programs. The calls to give Taiwanese “equal treatment” in China fell flat, and the economic integration measures were ultimately veiled attempts to weaken Taiwan’s sovereignty, according to Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council.
The presidential office accused Beijing of introducing the measures as a way to interfere in elections at the time.
Shot in the Dark
Similar integration programs in the past appear to have done little to entice Taiwanese people to support unification with China, according to polling.
If history is any guide, China’s latest plan for Fujian and Taiwan integration has little chance of succeeding, according to Heath.
“There is very good reason to be skeptical it will work,” Heath said, adding that it appears to be “a rehash or worked over version of what they’ve already tried with very little success.”
“Economic integration as a means of unification has been tried since the ’90s. Taiwan’s economy is quite dependent on China, and thoroughly integrated in many ways. They trade with each other quite a bit and many Taiwanese firms already have factories on the mainland to take advantage of cheap labor,” Heath said. “But that economic integration has not produced any political support for unification. On the contrary, it coincided with growing rejection of unification.”
And while Taiwan has rejected calls for unification, Beijing may have released the Fujian-Taiwan integration plan with an eye on swaying some Taiwanese toward China’s view on integration in advance of Taiwan’s presidential elections.
Beijing released the plan just months before Taiwan’s elections in January. The ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has typically been more hesitant about building economic ties with Beijing than the Kuomintang (KMT), which historically been more open to bolstering links with Beijing.
Part of the plan might be aimed at winning over those more sympathetic to building business ties with China—and influencing their decision-making in the coming months.
“There is a message about Fujian Province,” Heath said. “What the Communist Party is saying is to people who have money and influence in Taiwan: We are willing to work with you and give you opportunities to get really rich and prosper. But that means you need to work with us. You need to work with Communist Party authorities and listen to us when we say we want you to exert influence on the government of Taiwan.”
Taiwan’s Representative to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim has said that Taiwan will work to deflect any of Beijing’s efforts to influence the vote.
“We are trying to strengthen our democracy, to build a more resilient democracy so that we are less vulnerable to external interference and interventions,” Hsiao said, according to the Central News Agency of Taiwan. “And ultimately, the people of Taiwan will decide how our elections go. We will not let the PRC coerce us into making those decisions.”
Already, some people in Taiwan are seeing right though China’s attempts to win them over.
Terry Hung, who works in the pharmaceutical sector, said the plan appeared “very risky” in an interview with The Guardian.
“I do not want to invest in property in a communist nation, sharing my properties with that government. I do not want to work in an autocratic country because human rights and labour rights are all controlled by the government,” he said. “If one day your opinion does not align with the government’s stance, you will be at risk of arrest or detention.”