Relations between China and Taiwan have been suffering since Beijing began pounding on Hong Kong and Xi let slip that he wants to include Taiwan in the same “One Country, Two Systems” model. Xi played his cards closer to his chest this week during a visit to Fujian, the province just across the strait from Taiwan, where he emphasized the close economic relationship that still holds Taiwan in the orbit of the mainland, as the The Diplomat reports. Fujian is both a hub for Taiwanese business on the mainland and home to the “military deterrents China uses to keep Taiwan in check”, but Xi spent much more time talking up the former than the latter:
Though Xi’s tour included attending a military conference in Fujian, his major message for cross-strait relations focused on economics. Xi visited the Pingtan Comprehensive Experimental Zone, the mainland’s pet project for encouraging more cross-strait investment and business cooperation. While there, Xi emphasized role of Fujian in fostering economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan.In a statement, Tawain Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang pointed out that Xi specifically visited Taiwanese enterprises and met with Taiwanese businesspeople during his tour of Fujian. Stressing the ethnic and cultural ties between Taiwan and the mainland, Xi said that there was “no reason” for the two sides not to join hands in joint development. Xi also praised the role of Taiwanese businesspeople in fostering a positive cross-strait relationship. Overall, Xi’s tone during this visit represented a return to earlier, softer rhetoric toward cross-strait relations, where improved business ties were seen as acceptable progress on the road to Beijing’s eventual goal of reunification.
Xi’s interpretation of “One Country, Two Systems” has alarmed the Taiwanese public, which grows ever more ill-disposed toward reunification. From the ongoing ripple effects of the Sunflower Revolution, especially among young people, to Taiwanese President’s Ma Ying-jeou’s surprisingly strong stance in favor of Hong Kong’s democracy protesters, Taiwan continues to drift away from the mainland.If Xi wants to keep Taiwan close in Beijing’s orbit, the type of economic diplomacy he is using now is closer to the mark than his former harsh rhetoric about reunification. But as Richard Rosecrance recently explained, the cost of Beijing’s strong centralist policy in Hong Kong may be to push Taiwan away for good.