(Project of the Kajima Institute of International Peace)

The Taiwan Policy of the Xi Jinping Administration in its Second Term:
An Outlook on Cross-Strait Relations in the "New Era"1

Yasuhiro Matsuda
Professor, The University of Tokyo
Senior Associate, the Society of Security and Diplomatic Policy Studies


In an attempt to continue the stable relationship with the Chinese authorities that was realized in the Ma Ying-jeou administration, Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen administration initially made efforts to reach some consensus with the administration of China's Xi Jinping --- consensus which was to represent the "central meaning" of "the 1992 consensus"2 regarding "One China." However, both sides' efforts at coordination ended in failure, and finally their official diplomatic relations were disrupted. As a result, they have plunged into a "new normal" --- an unprecedented situation free from excessive tensions in the past3.

Beijing has regressed from its former flexible attitude and come to claim in a matter-of-fact manner that the Tsai administration should accept the 1992 consensus. The Tsai administration rejects this claim, and at the same time continues to cleverly refrain from any provocative action toward Beijing. The public opinion in China looks on this situation as an unpardonable provocation against the "One China Principle," and hardline opinions are increasing across the country.

In October 2017, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was held. General Secretary Xi Jinping made public a new Taiwan policy in the Congress report. In March 2018, a new leadership (a personnel assignment) of the Chinese government was unveiled at the National People's Congress (NPC). Almost at the same time, concrete Taiwan policy measures of the Chinese government were publicized.

The present paper purposes to clarify the features of the Taiwan policy of the Xi Jinping administration in its second term. Through a comparative analysis between the policies publicized before and after the 19th Party Congress and actual policies underway, it will provide an outlook on the Taiwan policy of the Xi Jinping administration that will remain in power until 2022.

1. The 19th Party Congress Report: Continuity of the "Two-Handed" Strategy

China's public opinion became harsher against the Tsai administration that has been refusing to accept the 1992 consensus since its inauguration in May 2016. The populist hardline Global Times (Chinese edition) continued coverage as if to encourage a cross-Strait unification by force, quoting remarks of PLA officers in active service.4 Not only that, but on August 1, 2017, Zhou Zhihuai, the former director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Science, said publicly, "It is difficult to avoid the issue of timetable for cross-Strait unification."5 The remarks by Zhou who was considered a moderate insider in the Xi Jinping administration, suggested the possibility that the administration would undertake a hardline policy.

At the 19th Party Congress, "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" was incorporated in the Party Constitution. It was included also in the Chinese Constitution in March 2018. Numerous forward-looking key words were coined in this connection --- "Community with a Shared Future for Mankind" for a target slogan committed to by Xi, and "One Belt One Road" for the Xi Jinping administration's pet policy initiative, comprising the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "Ocean Silk Road of the 21st Century."

When it comes to the Taiwan Policy expounded in the 19th Party Congress report,6 regardless of some added new key words, the basic strategy remains the same as before. Xi emphasizes the continuity of his Taiwan policy, referring to such key words relevant to the principles of cross-Strait relations as "question to realize China's complete reunification," "peaceful unification and one country, two systems," and "peaceful development of cross-Strait relations."

What is different from the former Taiwan Policy is that the new one elaborates the soft approach of "peaceful development of cross-Strait relations" in the following three parts.

First comes a cross-strait "integration of economic and social development." (jingji shehui ronghe fazhan)7 The report states, "we respect the current social system and way of life in Taiwan and are ready to share the development opportunities on the mainland with our Taiwan compatriots first."

Secondly, the advancement of "forging closer bonds." (xinling qihe) It states, "we will encourage people from both sides to work together to promote Chinese culture and forge closer bonds between them."

Thirdly, Beijing stands ready to provide "the same treatment as local people." (yu guomin tongdeng daiyu) It says, "We will ensure that over time, people from Taiwan will enjoy the same treatment as local people when they pursue their studies, start businesses, seek jobs, or live on the mainland, thus improving the wellbeing of Taiwan compatriots."

Meanwhile, the Xi Jinping administration has strengthened its hard-liner policy against Taiwan by adopting the expression "six anys," (liuge renhe) to thereby check any move toward Taiwan independence. According to the same report, "We have the resolve, the confidence, and the ability to defeat separatist attempts for ‘Taiwan independence' in any form. We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China!" Thus, the administration declares once more its intolerance of any move toward Taiwan independence.

In this way, the Taiwan policy of Xi Jinping in his second term is primarily soft approaches combined with hardline policy measures as a hedge against Taiwan independence, thereby maintaining the traditional framework of "two-handed strategy." It has no outstanding difference from the policy during the Hu Jintao era in terms of basic framework, when Beijing confronted the pro-independent Chen Shui-bian administration.8 The past experiences of facing a pro-independent administration in Taiwan seem to have driven home to the Chinese government the validity of its "two-handed strategy."

Since the 19th Party Congress report appeared, the Chinese public's hard line views on Taiwan have temporarily toned down. Furthermore, since in the March 2018 NPC, the restrictions on the term of office of the State President were removed through constitutional amendment, the Xi administration has been provided with more time. In other words, during the five years of his second term (2017-2022), Xi Jinping will not have to forcibly realize a unification with Taiwan. Instead, the ten years' period through his second and third terms (2017-2027) has become available for him to address the Taiwan issue.

2. A Soft Policy: The 31 Measures toward Taiwan

The Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of the State Council promulgated on February 28, 2018 "the Measures to Promote Cross-Strait Economic and Cultural Exchanges and Cooperation (hereinafter, the 31 Measures toward Taiwan)."9 The NDRC is an economic management agency under the State Council, having broad administrative and planning control over the Chinese economy. Those policy measures were announced based on coordination with other 29 departments under the State Council.

The 31 Measures toward Taiwan embody the soft policy of "Cross-Strait Peaceful Development." The policy measures fall into two categories. The first is to provide Taiwanese enterprises with equal treatment in the fields of investment and economic cooperation. (Article 1-12). These measures would encourage Taiwanese enterprises to: participate in the "Made in China 2025" initiative or in the construction of "One Belt and One Road;" transfer their R&D bases to the Chinese mainland, and participate in Chinese government procurement, thus offering many preferences to Taiwanese entities.

The other category of measures is to offer Taiwanese compatriots with the same treatment as local people in the areas of study, businesses, and working and living in the mainland. (Article 13-31) This category contains policy measures concerning the "forging closer bonds" and the "same treatment" mentioned in the 19th Party Congress report. Policy measures related to the "forging closer bonds" include the joint promotion of Chinese culture and the relaxation of restrictions imposed on Taiwan regarding the production of movies and TV dramas. Those related to the "same treatment" include measures to ease restrictions when Taiwanese doctors, financiers, professional technical personnel, etc. work in the mainland China, as well as measures to promote schooling and employment of Taiwanese people in the mainland China.

These measures constitute a comprehensive Taiwan policy package formulated by different departments and committees (equivalent to ministries) of the State Council. They were in turn followed by other subordinate policy measures with local characteristics that were formulated at lower levels than provinces and autonomous regions like Shanghai.10

The 31 Measures toward Taiwan are a soft, conciliatory policy. But they have concurrently another purpose of taking away from Taiwan such technologies and human resources that constitute Taiwan's advantages over China. In other words, the measures are not just a conciliatory approach of affording "benefits" to the Taiwanese, but a product co-authored by the administrative sectors of the State Council in coordination with the TAO and the NDRC. The 31 Measures toward Taiwan, therefore, can be considered a policy package advantageous and convenient to the Chinese government.

The 31 Measures toward Taiwan draw our attention not only to their contents but to the way they were announced. They were not related to the cross-Strait exchange mechanism now suspended, or to the KMT-CPC Platform (KMT is the biggest opposition party in Taiwan), but were unilaterally announced by the Chinese government. This suggests that in order to avoid contact with the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) government of Taiwan, Beijing will in the future likewise unilaterally decide and announce such policies that would normally need advance coordination with Taiwan.

The 31 Measures toward Taiwan are certainly alluring to individual Taiwanese people. But the Taiwanese government is uncompromising toward this policy which was unilaterally announced by Beijing. They have worked out countermeasures to prevent the outflow of technologies, capitals, and human resources.11

3. Hard-Line Policy Measures: Diminishment of Taiwan's International Space and Intensification of Military Pressure

The 19th Party Congress report suggests hardline policy measures to prevent Taiwan independence. Specifically, the following have been implemented.

First, there are many cases where Beijing mounts pressure to countries maintaining diplomatic relations with Taipei to suspend them and establish new diplomatic relations with the PRC. In the era of the Ma Ying-jeou administration, mainland China and Taiwan hardly engaged in competition for supporting states, due to the so-called "diplomatic cease fire." However, a telephone conversation by Tsai Ing-wen with Donald J. Trump, who was US president-elect then, invoked a retribution from Beijing. In December 2016, the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, and in June 2017, a year after the inauguration of the Tsai administration, Panama broke off diplomatic relations with Taipei.

In May 2018, the Dominican Republic and Burkina Faso broke from Taipei in a row and established diplomatic relations with Beijing. These are interpreted to be Beijing's retaliation against the official remarks of Premier Lai Chingte, in favor of Taiwan independence.12

In 2017, an invitation letter for the World Health Assembly (WHA) that Taiwan had been able to attend until the previous year did not reach Taiwan. In addition, Beijing questioned the fact that world airlines are adopting website references that can be construed to suggest that Taiwan is not part of China. Beijing lobbied against as many as 44 airline companies flying to and from China to modify such a wording. Most of the airlines switched from "Taiwan" to "Taiwan, China."13

Figure 1: Diagram of Cross-theater Training Routes of the PRC's Naval Vessels and Military Aircrafts (From August 18, 2016 to December 11, 2017)

Thick blue and thin blue lines: The aircraft carrier Liaoning and its battle group (Four times). Brown, yellow, rosy pink, and red lines denote transport aircraft, bombers, patrol aircraft and fighters, respectively (26 times).

Source: 2017 National Defense Report Editorial Committee ed., 2017 National Defense Report, Ministry of National Defense, Republic of China, March 2018, p. 44,


China's military pressure against Taiwan is also intensifying. For example, Chinese naval vessels and military aircraft have been rapidly increasing their activities around Taiwan since 2016. Figure 1 is a 2016-17-year record released by the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense for the "National Defense Report," which represents only part of their actual activities. Although most of the Chinese military aircraft are bombers, yet transport aircraft, air refueling aircraft, and fighters are also listed, indicating that the range of their operations is expanding. The aircraft carrier Liaoning also is increasing its operations; moreover, the vessel now seems to have been assigned a mission to intimidate Taipei in addition to her normal missions.


This paper has pointed out the following three features of the Taiwan policy of the Xi Jinping administration in its second term.

First, the policy demonstrates its continuity from that of the past administration --- the "two-handed strategy" consisting of soft policy measures and hardline policy measures. The 31 Measures toward Taiwan embody Beijing's soft policy to Taiwan, but at the same time are designed to take away from Taiwan its advanced technologies and competent human resources for use in the development of the Chinese mainland. Therefore, the Taiwanese government regards the package measures as equal to a kind of "beggar-thy-neighbor policy" to make Taiwan more dependent on China. Taipei is now heightening its vigilance over the measures. On the other hand, Beijing's hardline policy is made up of efforts to narrow Taiwan's international area of activity by mounting political pressure, and to accelerate the activities of Chinese military aircraft and naval ships around Taiwan.

Secondly, although the Xi Jinping administration has inherited the "two-handed strategy," yet it still fails to set clear goals to achieve. For example, those soft and hardline policy measures mentioned above have the effect of offsetting each other. If Beijing launched soft economic measures but simultaneously intensified military pressure, Taiwan would be even more vigilant. If Beijing increased military pressure, but at the same time adopted conciliatory economic measures, Taiwan would get an impression that Beijing will not resort to military force, and the effect of intimidation would be weakened. Such inconsistency gives Taiwan an impression that there is still time for her to respond.

Thirdly, while there is a continuing vicious cycle between an exchange of sanctions and retaliations and the resulting deterioration in the bilateral relations, Taiwan nonetheless manages to maintain a certain space of activity. This situation signifies that the Xi Jinping administration, absorbed with various external and internal political issues, does not place a high priority on the Taiwan issue. Changing the status quo related to the cross-Strait issue is still characterized by difficulties.

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