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China Unveils Plan to Integrate Taiwan Through Fujian While Flexing Military Muscle
China released a sweeping plan to boost integration between Taiwan and the coastal Chinese province of Fujian, touting closer economic and cultural ties across the Taiwan Strait. But the proposal comes amid stepped up military pressure, underscoring Beijing’s stick and carrot approach toward the democratic island it claims as its territory.
The plan, unveiled on Tuesday, September 13th 2023, aims to make Fujian a “model zone” for unified development with Taiwan. It promises new benefits and opportunities for Taiwanese people and businesses should they embrace greater cooperation with mainland China.
However, Taiwan’s leaders swiftly rejected the overture, calling it “meaningless” and not aligned with public opinion. The move also coincided with Chinese warships conducting military drills around Taiwan.
The integration proposal highlights key flashpoints in cross-strait relations as Taiwanese voters prepare to elect a new president in January 2023.
Key Details of China’s Taiwan-Fujian Integration Plan
- Make Fujian the foremost demonstration zone for "integrated development" between the mainland and Taiwan.
- Improve business environment for Taiwanese companies in Fujian. Encourage Taiwanese firms to invest, set up offices, and list on Chinese stock exchanges.
- Enable Taiwanese companies to launch media production firms in Fujian.
- Attract Taiwanese talent and families to live and work in Fujian through equal treatment in areas like social welfare, property ownership, healthcare, and education.
- Accelerate connectivity and exchanges between Fujian's coastal cities like Xiamen and Taiwan's outlying islands Matsu and Kinmen.
- Build infrastructure allowing electricity, gas, and bridge connections between Xiamen and Kinmen.
Reactions from Taiwan’s Leaders
- Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council dismissed the plan as “meaningless” and counter to public opinion.
- Lawmaker Wang Ting-yu called the proposal “ridiculous” and said China should focus on its own domestic economic issues instead.
- Past advocacy for closer Kinmen-Xiamen ties from local Taiwan officials has failed to gain traction nationally.
Analysis: Carrot and Stick Strategy Toward Taiwan
China’s integration plan represents its latest attempt to politically and economically absorb Taiwan using both incentives and military intimidation.
On the carrot side, the proposal promises Taiwanese citizens better opportunities to work, study and invest in Fujian province. For Taiwanese companies, it offers prospects to expand their mainland China operations under preferential policies.
These measures aim to showcase potential benefits should Taiwan agree to greater cooperation, if not eventual reunification under Beijing’s rule.
But the offer comes as China flexes its military strength around Taiwan with naval drills and aircraft flybys designed to signal the threat of invasion.
This stick helps explain Taiwan's skepticism of Beijing’s outreach. Though Fujian shares cultural ties with Taiwan, most Taiwanese prefer maintaining the separate political systems and freedoms already in place.
China Looks to Exploit Kinmen-Xiamen Proximity
A core component of Beijing’s integration plan focuses on Kinmen and Matsu – Taiwan-controlled islands just off the coast of Fujian.
The directive aims to dramatically deepen transportation links and exchanges between Kinmen and the coastal city of Xiamen located just miles away on the mainland. It even proposes building a bridge between them – establishing a physical link potentially ominous for Taiwanese authorities.
But some Kinmen residents have previously advocated for closer ties with Xiamen, giving Beijing an opportunity to exacerbate existing political divisions.
With presidential elections approaching, look for China to amplify calls from Kinmen and Matsu for increased economic integration as part of its pressure campaign on Taiwan's leadership.
Cross-Strait Relations Reach New Lows
The bold integration plan signals Beijing’s ambitions to advance reunification under Chinese Communist Party rule. But relations between the two sides have badly deteriorated in recent years.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, up for re-election in 2023, hails from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party. Her government has firmly rejected Beijing’s sovereignty claims and efforts to isolate Taiwan diplomatically.
China cut off formal talks with Taiwan after Tsai’s initial 2016 victory. It has ramped up military harassment and diplomatic isolation of the island since then.
Taiwan also increasingly views with alarm Beijing's crackdowns in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet as warnings against moves toward greater autonomy, let alone formal independence.
This environment makes the Fujian integration proposal a non-starter for Taiwan's current leadership. With neither side willing to compromise on Beijing’s “One China Principle”, substantive cooperation remains unlikely barring leadership changes.
Upcoming Taiwan Election Carries High Stakes
Tsai Ing-wen faces challengers in January from the opposition Kuomintang Party, which historically favored closer mainland ties.
Beijing will likely use election season to intensify its economic and military pressure on Taiwan, while touting the potential benefits of rapprochement under a Kuomintang victory.
If Tsai claims re-election, expect cross-strait tensions to persist as she continues resisting China’s demands.
But if the China-friendly opposition returns to power, it could open the door to renewed exchanges, if not direct talks.
Either outcome will have profound implications for peace and security across the Taiwan Strait as China’s leaders grow impatient to resolve what they consider an unfinished civil war.
U.S. Role Adds Complexity
Complicating matters is the stance of the United States, Taiwan’s main ally and arms supplier.
Washington recognizes Beijing's stance that Taiwan is an integral part of China. But the U.S. also maintains strategic ambiguity on whether it would militarily defend Taiwan in a Chinese attack.
This uncertainty helps deter China while avoiding a formal treaty alliance that could provoke war. But it dissatisfies some in Taiwan who want an explicit American security guarantee.
As China-U.S. strategic rivalry intensifies, Taiwan is taking on even greater geopolitical significance. Beijing accuses Washington of encouraging pro-independence forces on the island.
Meanwhile, America's greater engagement with Taipei under the Biden administration risks further rattling Beijing.
Navigating these dynamics will require deft diplomacy from Washington and Taipei to avoid uncontrolled escalation or miscalculation.
Outlook: A More Assertive and Impatient Beijing
China’s bold integration plan reflects ruler Xi Jinping’s more aggressive agenda for achieving national rejuvenation, including resolving the Taiwan issue.
But its release amid shows of military force highlights the paradoxical effects of Beijing’s pressure campaign. Namely, eroding the goodwill needed for genuine cooperation.
Absent a Taiwanese leadership more willing to meet Beijing’s demands, expect China’s saber-rattling to intensify, raising the risks of confrontation.
Yet the high costs and uncertain outcome of attempted military action will likely give Beijing pause. Taiwan’s strategic value and the threat of U.S. intervention complicate the calculus.
Barring a Taiwan provocation or internal instability giving Beijing a pretext for intervention, China’s leaders will likely rely on political, economic and military coercion while avoiding direct conflict preemptively.
But with Xi staking his legitimacy on unification with Taiwan, the coming years will test the limits of strategic patience as nationalist pressures build.
For Taiwan’s leaders, maintaining security, freedom and international support remain paramount. But improving ties with Beijing could help ease tensions, provided China relents on its red line demands.
Absent a fundamental recalibration of either side’s positions, the Taiwan Strait will remain on a knife’s edge, carrying ramifications across Asia and beyond.
Summarised form the original article published on - edition.cnn.com
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