Can Taiwan Officials and Politicians Play a Role in the Chinese Mainland?
Photo Credit: Brookings Institution
By Peter Kien-hong Yu

Can Taiwan Officials and Politicians Play a Role in the Chinese Mainland?

Jun. 23, 2017  |     |  0 comments

One January 1, 1979, the United States switched its diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). On the same day, Beijing proposed the “Three Links and Four Exchanges” strategy regarding the Taiwan question. In December 2008, direct air and shipping links for the first time materialized between both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

In summer 2015, a Xiamen University professor told me that these exchanges should continue, despite the fact that Tsai Ing-wen was perceived at that time to be able to capture the 14th presidency of the ROC in January 2016.

I fully agree with that professor. After having sojourned in Shanghai from February to April 2017, I, as an academic, had many misunderstandings about what was going on in the Chinese mainland from the late 1940s up to now.1 Part of the reason has to do with the socio-political efforts from December 1949 to the July 1987 lifting of the martial decree of the then-ruling party of Taiwan, the Nationalist Party of China (KMT), of its policies of obscurantism and the brainwashing of the people.

Fact One, regarding public issues. Freedom of speech is allowed, so long as one complies with government by law (or rule of law in the West). We do see a few popular media platforms, such as WeChat, WeiBo, and ZhiHu. Needless to say, as in any other societies, some irresponsible citizens exist. They are fond of feeding misinformation and spreading rumors, and one could be easily misled by them.

Fact Two, regarding public issues. One can gripe about social matters. As one example, on June 2, 2017, I spoke to one taxi driver in front of Wutong Passenger Wharf in Xiamen Port City regarding the increased fares since April 2017 for the shuttle bus from the wharf to the international airport. The driver half-jokingly said Xiamen is the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) “tian xia” (world) and, thus, the party alone can decide the fare by itself. The driver continued his complaint, saying he is a member of the CPC, and pays a membership fee of RMB 30 per month. I told him that it is to his advantage, because, if he is unemployed, the Party can help him to find a new full-time job. He immediately corrected me, saying that those days were gone, adding he is thinking of quitting his membership. To be sure, there was a third person standing nearby who was in charge of security guard service at the wharf.

Fact One, regarding private issues. My grandfather was born in April 1907. Before and after the May 1949 Communist rule of Shanghai, he worked at a private British company, Jardine Matheson & Co., on the Bund. To my surprise, he was able to not get involved in political campaigns including the Cultural Revolution.2 I thought he would be in deep trouble, due to the fact that his son worked on the last state-owned merchant vessel, which sailed in August 1949 from Guangzhou Port in Guangdong Province to Jilong Port in Taiwan Province. The ship was not allowed to return to Guangzhou, which had been liberated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in October of the same year. I lived in Taipei City when I was small. I read material sources, saying all the PRC residents who had connections in Taiwan and elsewhere would be in trouble. Not at all, at least in my grandpa’s case. When the British firm ended its operations in Shanghai in December 1954, so as to reconsolidate its business in Hong Kong,3 my grandfather lost his full-time job for a period of time. However, later, the ruling party helped him to get a full-time job in a factory, manufacturing switches. In sum, he was more fortunate than that taxi driver mentioned above.

I do perceive room for Taiwan government officials and politicians to play a role in the public affairs of mainland China, so long as they stick to the One China principle and comply with the PRC’s rules and regulations.

Fact Two, regarding private issues. I will not mention the details of this one at this juncture. Readers will be able to learn about this amazing bombshell in the second last paragraph.

Honestly speaking, the performance of Tsai thus far has been very poor. Many voters who supported her in January 2016 have regretted it very much. I can only give her a final grade of 58 for the first year. People in Taiwan who lack confidence or worry about retribution certainly are afraid of Beijing leaders, and they would still stay behind Tsai. One example par excellence is as follows: Lai Ching-te is one of the presidential hopefuls for 2020. He is the incumbent mayor of Tainan City in southern Taiwan. He is well known for his pro-Taiwan independence stance. On June 5, he made an interesting remark for the first time, saying he is “not against China, but rather is pro-China and loves Taiwan,” adding the former still wants to reunify with the latter.4 The next day, the presidential palace spokesman said what Lai said is consistent with Tsai’s stance.

We must go back to history. On January 12, 1988, then-President Chiang Ching-kuo privately discussed a vital issue with his confidant Lee Huan, which has to do with negotiating with the CPC on the reunification issue.5

After almost 30 years, time is certainly ripe for Taipei and Beijing to negotiate with each other. Otherwise, more people in Taiwan will continue to economically suffer by not being part of mainland China’s One Belt, One Road strategy. Seeing that opportunities are arising, the United States participated, at the last minute, in the May 14-15, 2017 Belt and Road Forum.6 In early June 2017, Tokyo also endorsed this strategy for the first time.7

On the whole, Beijing will deliver its promises. In September 1981, Ye Jianying, who was in charge of Taiwan affairs in the CPC, laid down the famous nine-point proposal, inter alia, the central government in the Chinese mainland can render financial help to the people of Taiwan, in case of difficulties. At that time, when Soong Chu-yu headed the then-ROC Government Information Office, he snubbed Ye’s proposal. He said that Taiwan, labeled as one of the four Asian tigers given its robust economic development, did not need assistance from the Chinese mainland. Look now. Taiwan’s economy is in deeper trouble since May 2016. As a reminder, Beijing did take care of, for example, farmers in southern Taiwan under its policy of concession of profits or interests until recently. From 2011-15, farmers in Taiwan annually made USD 1 billion from the Chinese mainland buyers.8

As a reminder, Ye’s ninth point stated that Taiwan people can provide advice, even related to state affairs. Tsai’s negotiation team can certainly make demands on issues that concern it the most.

The reason is simple and straightforward. It is again derived from my personal experience. Ten years ago, a senior researcher retired in Shanghai. His father worked for an important bureau in Shanghai before May 1949. After the liberation of the city by the communists, his father was jailed for many years simply because he had worked for the KMT. I was really shocked to hear from the researcher that he later became a high-ranking official of the CPC. Over the last ten years, the CPC even provided him with certain privileges that common people would not have. What I really want to express is that I do perceive room for Taiwan government officials and politicians to play a role in the public affairs of mainland China, so long as they stick to the One China principle and comply with the PRC’s rules and regulations. Indeed, we ought to also bear in mind Ye’s fifth point, which states that “The Taiwan authorities and representatives from all walks of life may serve as leadership positions in the national political institutions and participate in state administration.”

Tsai’s wishful thinking up to this day is not to acknowledge the November 1992 consensus or a version of it, while hoping to negotiate with her counterpart on the Chinese mainland. This is a trap, because if negotiations do not go smoothly, she can always withdraw at any time or even threaten to create a second China or Taiwan state. I for one cannot trust her words and deeds, which are often contradictory. As a social scientist, we need to know her theory and model, so as to find out whether they can rigorously meet the tests of past, present, and future.


1. One example: I thought English-learning was not permitted, since mainland China sided with the Soviet Union after the creation of the PRC. Another example: Red Guards did not touch Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum in the former capital of the ROC during the Cultural Revolution.

2. Confirmed by my uncle, Cui Jianzhong. Email from him dated June 5, 2017.

3. The United Kingdom in January 1954 decided to officially withdraw all business operations in the Chinese mainland. In the summer of 1954, Jardine Matheson & Co. told the Chinese Communist authorities that it would withdraw from Shanghai and other branch offices.


5. On the next day, he suddenly felt critically ill.

6. The White House dispatched Matt Pottinger, who is the National Security Council senior director for Asia.

7. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai headed the delegation.


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