16.02.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Kuomintang delegation to visit People’s Republic of China

The ten-day visit to China by a delegation of the Kuomintang, Taiwan’s main opposition party, which has been in power more than once, began on February 8 and it is the most remarkable event since the NEO last reviewed the situation around what is perhaps the most dangerous problem of the “Global Great Game” current stage.

The unusual length of stay of Taiwanese guests on the “Mainland,” accompanied by various types of occurrences, attests to the event’s rarity. The fact that on February 10, Wang Hongning (one of the seven members of the current Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee Politburo) received Andrew Xia, Vice Chairman of the Kuomintang, who led the visiting delegation, demonstrates the hosts’ special attention to it.

And, if this was a ceremonial and symbolic meeting, then the day before, Xia’s talks with the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, Song Tao, were quite businesslike. As a result, it seems appropriate to discuss the personalities of both participants briefly.

Xia is an experienced diplomat who studied (among other things) at prestigious British universities. He served as deputy foreign minister, among other things, during the last years of the Kuomintang’s rule (2009-2016). According to the information available, Xia’s views on the key issue of Taiwan’s current position in the international relations system only differ from those of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has been in power since 2016, by public rhetoric rather than by actual content.

Song Tao, Xia’s recent negotiating partner, is also a seasoned diplomat. Until his previous appointment as head of the CPC Central Committee’s international department in 2015, he served in the Foreign Ministry in prominent positions, most notably as ambassador to the Philippines. That country’s significance is growing in the complex game that is now unfolding in the Indo-Pacific region, with the determining participation of both of the world’s leading powers.

Song Tao’s appointment as head of the Taiwan Affairs Office came at the end of last year as part of a broader process of radical change in the country’s leadership. Which was one of the main outcomes of the CPC’s 20th Congress two months before.

That is, on February 9, not minor functionaries of the ruling Communist Party of China, as well as the Kuomintang, which expects to return to power in Taiwan in a year time, met at the negotiating table in Beijing. The participants in both meetings in Beijing had one thing in common: they wanted to achieve this goal.

But for the Kuomintang, it was the fact that they did take place that could be “sold” to Taiwanese voters during the inter-party battle over the outcome of the general elections in a year time. The latter are not interested in a “non-peaceful” resolution of a key foreign policy issue for China on their territory.

However, it appears that the average Taiwanese do not want it resolved in the format implied by China’s leadership. The former would be perfectly content to maintain the status quo (established during the Kuomintang period, it should be noted), in which one can enjoy all of the significant advantages of maintaining trade, economic, tourism, and other relations with the Mainland without being subject to its administrative management. The fact that Taiwan is not a full-fledged subject-object of international relations is apparently regarded as an insignificant abstraction, which can be quite neglected in the name of continuing the current comfortable existence.

It is these sentiments that the Kuomintang takes into account when it pursues a “pull-push” strategy with regard to Mainland claims. Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s president during the aforementioned period, while publicly declaring respect for the One China principle (confirmed during this visit as well), stubbornly failed to notice Beijing’s transparent hints about the need to move from words to deeds: “Let’s further develop our excellent trade and economic ties, and politics can wait.

Just as back then, the Kuomintang advocates today a comprehensive development of relations with Washington, as well as major US allies. Both European and Asian. Last year, at least twice, a delegation of the Kuomintang visited the United States. Both with and separately from representatives of other parties. During a June 2022 visit to the US, current party leader Eric Chu assured listeners at a public event that he maintained “the pro-American position of the Kuomintang, which has never changed since the party’s founding.”

However, the motivation for this positioning of the Kuomintang was justified by the party leader as “the need to maintain peace in the region.” But in the US the most radical advocates of developing comprehensive (including defense) relations with Taiwan mention the same need.

On February 6 this year, a delegation of Taiwanese parliamentarians led by a representative of the Kuomintang came to London to seek the UK’s support for plans to make the island part of the regional CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) alliance established in 2019. This Agreement was signed by 11 parties a year earlier. The UK itself is in the final stage of joining this association.

Note, however, that an application was sent on behalf of China in the fall of 2021 to join the CPTPP. That means that so far Beijing has not been able to create any formal obstacles for Taiwan to join this association either.

There would be no reason for them at all, were it not for the defiant policy of the DPP, which currently rules the island. President Tsai Ing-wen, who represents the party, routinely receives visitors from the United States, who in the past held high government offices. Recent visitors have included former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (who is defined as “hawk” in the United States) and former heads of the Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davis and Admiral Harry Harris. It is clear what they all talked about in their meetings with the Taiwanese president. We can only note that the content of their speeches in no way contributes to solving the problem of “pacification” of the situation in the Taiwan Strait. The latter, incidentally, was one of the stated goals of the Kuomintang delegation’s visit to China.

But the abovementioned people are “retired”; that is to say everything they say is formally irrelevant to official policy of Washington in general and to the Taiwan issue in particular. However should the new Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy reproduce the “effect” of his predecessor, Nancy Pelosi it will be viewed very differently by Beijing. He himself has recently spoken of such intentions more than once. Their implementation would only increase the degree of deviation from a certain equilibrium in the US-China relations as a whole which are the main factor in the transformation of the Taiwan problem.

Meanwhile, the notorious “China Balloon Incident” has greatly contributed to this deviation. It served as a pretext in Washington for canceling Secretary of State Blinken’s visit to China. The shooting down of that object by the US Air Force (“weather balloon” in the PRC’s interpretation) predetermined Beijing’s cancellation of the scheduled meeting of defense ministers.

At the same time, China reacted positively to the plans (stated, however, in general terms) of Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen to visit Beijing, apparently in order to continue negotiations with Deputy Prime Minister Liu He, which took place on January 18 in Switzerland.

Note, finally, that the DPP does not want to completely surrender to the Kuomintang a very promising (in terms of all the same electoral struggle) position as a proponent of détente in relations with the Mainland. To this end, firstly, all sorts of bad words are used in characterizing the rival party in general and its positioning in relation to the CCP in particular (such as “clientelism”)

Secondly, attempts are being made to get rid of the image of a political force that only makes things worse in relations with the Mainland. In particular, in Tsai Ing-wen’s New Year’s speech there were some words about the desire for a certain adjustment. The island welcomed the resumption of bilateral air service (previously interrupted under the pretext of restrictions due to Covid19), as well as ferry service to islands directly adjacent to the PRC coast, but controlled by Taipei.

It remains to be seen how the battle for the image of “the supporter of improved relations with the mainland” that is unfolding between Taiwan’s main parties in the election race that has already begun, will affect its outcome.

In the meantime, the latter could be crucial to the development of the Taiwan issue.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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