The PRC’s preferential policy towards Taishang and the possibility of unification

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) long-term aims have remained constant in its desire for eventual absorption of Taiwan. It has replaced its previous more aggressive stance with a concentration on reducing Taiwan’s de facto independence by making Taiwanese increasingly dependent on the Chinese economy. The Chinese government’s preferential policies are outlined in the law of 1988 “The Regulations for Encouraging Investment by Taiwan Compatriots”, the law of 1994 “the Law on the Protection of Investment by Taiwan Compatriots”.

However, whether the Chinese local officials’ preferential policies towards Taishang (overseas Taiwanese business people) matches the Chinese central government’s political motivation should be analysed by referring to the views of four different groups involved: the first one is from the Taiwanese government’s stance and reaction to the Chinese preferential policies for Taishang; the second one is from the attitude of Taishang; the third is from the perspective of Taiwanese people in general living in Taiwan; and the fourth relates to Chinese local government’s motivation in implementing preferential policies.

Cross-strait economic integration is predominantly achieved through inter-governmental agreement, negotiation and treaty as well as through sustained links between state and non-state actors (mainly taishang) within or across national borders. However, the bottom-up process of Taiwanese residents’ voice will to some degree affect the government’s policies.  According to the changes of the cross-Strait relationship during different periods in the past 25 years or so, as well as the political attitude of the President toward China and cross-Strait macro-economic policy, the Taiwanese government in general has responded positively to the Chinese central government’s preferential policies toward Taishang. Under domestic pressure from the opposition party and Taishang and the worry of being over-dependent on the Chinese economy out of concerns over security, the Taiwanese government has however not fundamentally changed its position on unification with its Chinese counterpart. From which one can conclude that the Taiwanese government has not been seduced by Chinese government’s preferential policies in favour of Taishang to surrender its identity or made any radical concession to China.

As for the Taishang, all of my interviewees from Taiwanese companies (conducted as part of my PhD fieldwork) were careful not to let their domestic political views or support for any of the Taiwanese parties affect the way they conduct their business in China. Such action, they explained, is simply to avoid unnecessary problems from the central government or conservative local officials. It has not affected Taishang’s Taiwanese political affiliation or sympathy. Some of the interviewees mentioned that, in some cities, Taishang with strong political views of ‘Taiwanese independence’ will be blacklisted. New Taiwanese investors have learned from their predecessors’ experiences to ‘do in Rome as the Romans do’ and try not to take sides.

This should be set against the situation as seen by the general Taiwanese population. At the same time as not necessarily sharing the political views of the Taishang and remembering that Taiwanese people in general have minimal interaction with Chinese central or local governments, one notes that data from surveys conducted by the Election Study Centre of Taiwan’s National Cheng-Chi University regarding Taiwanese people’s political attitude on independence versus unification and Taiwanese identity, shows a gradual shift in the population’s attitude. Data for 1994-2010 and 1992-2010 indicate that the percentage of the population favouring unification has decreased and that of those wanting to keep the status quo or more assertion of independence has increased. In other words, the movement of popular opinion is not necessarily progressively in one direction only. Surveys show a remarkable shift in Taiwanese self-perception over the past 18 years. The number of those identifying themselves as Taiwanese has risen from 17% to 52.6%, whereas those who see themselves purely as Chinese has dropped from 26% to 3.7%.

The number of people with a feeling of being both Taiwanese and Chinese has not dramatically changed, from 46% to 40%. It can be argued that many factors contribute to this trend, one of the main factors being a result of Chinese government’s propaganda and ‘Taiwan policy’ (DuiTai Zhengce). The Beijing government not unreasonably suspects Taiwan’s leaders of possibly pursuing a deliberate policy to “de-sinify” the island, counter to the Chinese government’s “friendly” policies (such as preferential treatment).  Nevertheless, some officials in Beijing still hope that economic interaction with Taiwan will make people in the island feel more Chinese again.

One can conclude that cross-Strait economic integration between Taiwan and China does not work completely in the Chinese mainland government’s favour and does not fully reflect its political motive for offering preferential treatment to Taiwanese investors. One way of reaching China’s political goal has been through making the Taiwanese economy become heavily reliant on the Chinese market, which may help or expedite  future political integration of the two countries. But another fundamental issue will not easily be reconciled – Taiwanese abandoning a wish for a distinct identity in terms of nationality and political sovereignty which most of Taiwanese presently feel, and being sympathetic to unification and finally giving up their resistance to the idea of one nation.

Jen-Ping Myron Chiu is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Wales, Swansea.