Beijing’s generosity puts Taipei on edge

By Jens KastnerTAIPEI – It might be customary elsewhere that when political entity A showers political entity B with billions of dollars, both sides’ leaders present the good deed concertedly so that either has a chance capitalizing on it in political terms. But this does not apply in the case of mainland China and Taiwan.

In this case, the government of Taiwan is increasingly being left out of the show. Taking one big chunk out of Taipei’s governing authority after another, Beijing directly presents the island’s people with strikingly mouthwatering goodies. And, adding insult to injury, it doesn’t shy away from encouraging breaches of local law.

At a recent cross-strait exchange forum held in Xiamen, a city in

the mainland’s Fujian province, Wang Yi, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) under China’s State Council, did what he usually does at such events: herald economic sweeteners for the “compatriots” on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

Wang said that Taiwanese enterprises wishing to operate from the mainland would be offered a staggering 600 billion yuan (US$95.5 billion) in bank loans; that Beijing would lift an import ban on rice from the island; that the list of Chinese provinces where local businesses can directly employ Taiwanese would get longer; that residential permits for Taiwanese would be extended from one to two years; and that the islanders were welcome to work in selected provinces’ and municipalities’ public sector, spanning colleges and universities as well as cultural and medical institutions.

But while Taiwan’s business and farmers associations, mainland-based expats, would-be migrants and many others have been popping the corks in jubilation, the Taiwanese government is being thrust into a very awkward position. Its response to Wang’s overtures has been lukewarm at best, not only because Beijing apparently does not bother talking to Taipei beforehand about such headline-grabbing measures involving astronomical sums of money, but also due to the matter that although Taiwanese law has allowed citizens to work on the mainland since 2003, it explicitly prohibits employment by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Covered by this ban are jobs in political committees, as government consultants and also at the very colleges, universities, and cultural and medical institutions the TAO’s Wang has now opened the doors wide for Taiwanese. PRC disregard of the Taiwanese law in question had already become a prominent matter earlier this year when a recruitment drive aimed at local-government officials, farmers and academics was launched to develop the “Pingtan Comprehensive Experimental Zone” in Fujian province.

That Beijing has no qualms about all this despite the spectacularly improving cross-strait ties of late is hardly surprising.

“From Beijing’s perspective, Taiwan is part of the PRC, and it needs no permission to make funding support to Taiwanese businesses in the rest of the PRC,” said Steve Tsang, director of the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, in an interview with Asia Times Online.

“Along the same line of thinking, allowing Taiwanese to work for government agencies in China should require no permission from Taipei.”

This attitude is of course highly objectionable from the Taiwanese government’s perspective, Tsang added.

It is one thing that Beijing shows the Taiwanese population that they can easily and safely vote with their feet should economic or political developments on the island ever run counter to their wishes. But with Beijing ignoring the Taiwanese government and obviously failing to consider Taiwan’s laws, its supposed ally in Taipei, President Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), is being pushed hard.

In the run-up to the election to his first presidential term in 2008, Ma unilaterally came up with the “mutual non-denial” slogan to facilitate smooth working relations with Beijing. Back then, he explained that while Beijing’s PRC and Taipei’s Republic of China (ROC) could not possibly recognize each other as the legitimate ruler over China because of their respective constitutions, for the sake of good relations, the two sides should at least not put in question each other’s existence.

Yet while Ma shortly after the inauguration to his second and final term in late May this year again declared that “mutual non-denial of authority to govern is the most pragmatic approach to ties between Taipei and Beijing”, the recent TAO drive serves as a vivid reminder that mainland officials have never given the nod to the tactic agreement between Beijing and Taipei that Ma’s formula suggests to exist.

According to Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of Hong Kong Baptist University’s department of government and international studies, the measures the TAO’s Wang announced are perfectly in line with Beijing’s “united front” strategy. The term stands for a tactic carrot-and-stick approach of amassing military equipment opposite Taiwan while at the same time offering ample opportunities for business and cultural exchanges.

However, Cabestan expressed doubts on whether the TAO’s conspicuous neglect of diplomatic politeness was part of the story.

“Beijing is investing in the future; deepening Taiwan’s dependence will allow China to narrow the DPP’s [anti-unification Democratic Progressive Party] options if it wins the next presidential election in 2016,” he said.

“But the reason Beijing did not consult with Taipei is probably because this policy is carried out on the mainland and does not need Taipei’s green light.”

Cabestan added that the PRC might also make a distinction between government agencies and shiye danwei, which is a legal category that includes universities and hospitals.

“Like this, the double line is not really crossed, at least from Beijing’s point of view,” he said.

Jens Kastner is a Taipei-based journalist.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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