On Tuesday, China revealed a proposal to strengthen ties between the coastal province of Fujian and independent Taiwan. While promoting the advantages of deeper cross-strait collaboration, China also sent warships in a show of military force to the island.
The State Council and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party simultaneously issued the directive, which promises to make Fujian a “demonstration zone” for Taiwan-integrated development and the “first home” for Taiwanese citizens and businesses to live in China.
The publication of the document, which Chinese experts quoted in state media have hailed as a “blueprint” for Taiwan’s future growth, coincides with a critical period in cross-strait relations as Taiwan prepares for its presidential election in January.
Additionally, it occurs as China increases its military pressure on Taiwan, a dynamic democracy with a population of 24 million that Beijing’s ruling Communist Party claims as its own despite never having had control over it.
A Chinese aircraft carrier and about 20 Chinese warships were seen congregating in waters close to Taiwan this week, according to Taiwanese authorities, ahead of Beijing’s presentation of its integration plan.
Long ago, China adopted a “carrot and stick” policy toward Taiwan, threatening it with military invasion while providing chances for trade and cultural contacts to individuals it deemed to be more receptive to Beijing’s viewpoints.
It is also unknown how openly Taiwanese citizens will accept China’s expansive proposition given how severely cross-strait ties have deteriorated lately.
On Wednesday, Wang Ting-yu, a politician from Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, called the unification plan “ridiculous.”
“China should think about how it can take care of its bad debts, but not how it can conduct united front work against Taiwan,” Wang said in a video message, alluding to initiatives by the Chinese government to further its objectives abroad.
Beijing praised the policy in a press conference on Thursday, noting that the Communist Party leadership and President Xi Jinping “attach great importance to the unique role of Fujian in the overall strategy on Taiwan.”
Vice Director of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Pan Xianzhang stated, “We will… support the construction of (the demonstration zone) as a major initiative to deepen cross-strait integrated development and consolidate the foundation for peaceful reunification.”
In China’s official paper from 2021, the idea of transforming Fujian into a zone for integrated development with Taiwan initially surfaced, although it did not include any information at the time.
When a top Chinese official brought up the integration plan at a forum in June, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council criticized the idea as “meaningless” and “futile,” claiming it did not live up to Taiwan’s citizens’ expectations and “belittles” Taiwan.
Beijing promises in the directive to enhance business conditions for Taiwanese enterprises in Fujian, expand financing and industrial collaboration, and promote Taiwanese companies’ listings on Chinese stock exchanges.
For the first time, a pilot initiative will permit Taiwanese businesses to invest in and establish radio and television production businesses in Fujian.
Additionally, the order aims to entice families and workers from Taiwan to settle in Fujian. It offers to improve social welfare programs to make it simpler for Taiwanese citizens to live and work in the province, particularly by facilitating the purchase of property. It also guarantees equitable treatment for Taiwan’s pupils applying to public schools.
Chinese analysts highlighted that “the document is equivalent to outlining the future development blueprint of Taiwan island, which is expected to gain a broader driving force and development prospect by integrating with Fujian,” the state-run Global Times reported.
The province with the most cultural and geographical ties to Taiwan is Fujian, which has 40 million residents and is located on the western side of the Taiwan Strait.
Many Taiwanese are descended from immigrants from Fujian who came to Taiwan in waves throughout history, bringing with them the dialect, traditions, and religion that served as the foundation of Taiwan’s traditional culture among the country’s majority Han population.
The geographic, historical, and cultural proximity of Fujian to Taiwan has long been used by China’s Communist Party to justify deeper economic and social integration, and ultimately unification, with the island.
The outlying Taiwanese islands of Kinmen and Matsu, which are far closer to Fujian than Taiwan and traditionally had the strongest ties with the mainland, are a special target of Beijing’s unification efforts.
Beijing promises in the guideline released on Tuesday to further quicken integration between Kinmen and the nearby city of Xiamen.
It promises to investigate working together on infrastructure projects that would allow energy and gas to be transferred from Xiamen to Kinmen as well as building a bridge to link the two cities. According to the plan, Xiamen locals and inhabitants of Kinmen will both receive the same treatment.
The cities of Fuzhou and Matsu are also given similar integration plans.
The initiatives to encourage more connectedness may be appealing to some Kinmen people. Eight municipal councilors from Kinmen, who are members of a cross-party coalition, recommended last year that a bridge be built to Xiamen to strengthen trade connections as part of a larger plan to make Kinmen into a demilitarized zone or so-called “peace island.”
In the years following the Chinese civil war, Kinmen, which is situated on the front line between Taiwan and China, was subjected to several amphibious assaults and shelling by the Chinese military.
According to the councilors’ proposal, all of Taiwan’s military personnel and facilities would be evacuated from the islands, and Kinmen would serve as the venue for Beijing-Taipei negotiations aimed at “de-escalating tensions.”