Wang Huning, member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) and chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), announced the formulation of the Opinions on Supporting Fujian in Exploring a New Path for Cross-Strait Integrated Development and Establishing a Demonstration Zone for Cross-Strait Integrated Development (hereafter referred to as the Opinions) by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council at the 15th Straits Forum held in Xiamen, Fujian on June 17th, 2023. The full text of the Opinions was finally released on September 12th. Covering a wide range of issues, including studying, living, doing business and exchanges, the Opinions clearly demonstrate China’s intent to fully utilize Fujian’s unique advantage in dealing with Taiwan-related issues and its role model function. China will establish a demonstration zone for cross-strait integrated development in Fujian through making Fujian the first-choice destination for Taiwan residents and enterprises to pursue development in China, encouraging deep economic and trade integration between Fujian and Taiwan, promoting integrated development throughout Fujian and deepening social and cultural exchanges between Fujian and Taiwan. Below are four observations from the author.
First, the Chinese leadership provides unprecedented support. The Opinions were jointly formulated by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, demonstrating that the policy is supported by both the party and the state. The hierarchy of the Opinions is higher than the Several Opinions on Supporting Fujian in Accelerating the Building of the Economic Zone on the West Coast of the Taiwan Strait, which was drafted only by the State Council in May 2009. Indeed, the Chinese President Xi Jinping has attached much greater importance to Fujian’s role in Taiwan-related issues than his predecessors. Moreover, as the Vice Premier responsible for economic and trade affairs He Lifeng, the Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) Zheng Shanjie and the Director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Song Tao have extensive experience in Fujian, the policy is expected to be promoted smoothly.
Second, Fujian’s advantage in being at the forefront of China’s work on Taiwan will be brought into full play. Fujian and Taiwan are only separated by the Taiwan Strait and share geographic proximity, blood ties, similar customs and common languages. As a result, Fujian has become a key area for promoting cross-strait economic and trade development, attracting investment from Taiwan and advancing various exchanges with Taiwan. In recent years, Fujian has successively rolled out provincial-level preferential policies for Taiwan, including the Opinions on Fujian Province’s Implementation of the “Several Measures for Promoting Cross-Strait Economic and Cultural Exchanges and Cooperation” (with 66 articles), the Implementation Opinions on Exploring a New Path for Integrated Development Across the Taiwan Strait” (with 42 articles) and an equal treatment list for Taiwan compatriots and enterprises (with 225 items). After the adoption of the Opinions, the Fujian authorities and major cities like Xiamen will definitely formulate supporting measures and corresponding detailed targets for implementation.
Third, China attempts to treat Taiwan as a local government and treat Taiwan like Hong Kong. China specifically emphasizes diversified exchanges and substantive relations between local governments in Fujian’s work on Taiwan, demonstrating that China intends to downgrade Taiwan’s status to a province of China. China has been promoting its plan of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area in recent years in the hope of facilitating exchanges of talents and a close living sphere through economic integration between the three places. China’s initiative to support Fujian in exploring a new path for cross-strait integrated development is very similar to its planning for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. However, there is a lack of convenient transportation links between Taiwan and Fujian as they are separated by the Taiwan Strait. An escalating spiral of hostility across the Taiwan Strait also makes it difficult to be optimistic about the prospects of integrated development between Fujian and Taiwan. However, the influence of the Opinions on Kinmen and Matsu Islands will be noteworthy. After all, the two areas are adjacent to Fujian, which will definitely accelerate the process of creating a common living sphere.
Fourth, the Opinions demonstrate China’s adherence to peaceful reunification across the Taiwan Strait. Cross-strait relations have been tense in recent years. China has stepped up military threat against Taiwan and explicitly vows that it will never renounce the right to use force. Accordingly, whether China will unify Taiwan by force has become a frequently debated topic. Chinese scholars think that the release of the Opinions is an important policy indicator of China’s adherence to peaceful reunification. However, from China’s perspective, relation between peaceful reunification and reunification by force is seen as dialectical rather than contradictory. Taiwan still needs to be prepared for China’s two-pronged strategy.
In conclusion, China is eager to use Fujian’s advantage and promote various breakthrough measures to accelerate the implementation of Taiwan-related policies and take the initiative in cross-strait integrated development. However, in the context of tense relations between Taiwan and China and steadily dwindling support for cross-strait reunification, China’s unilateral efforts to promote integrated development between Fujian and Taiwan may only achieve very limited results.
(Jui-Hua Kuo, Contract Researcher at the Prospect & Exploration magazine)