China must ‘win the hearts’ of the Taiwanese, says Xi

Xi Jingping - China must ‘win the hearts’ of the Taiwanese, says Xi Jinping
Xi Jingping flitters between carrots and sticks in his approach to Taiwan - Avalon /Benoit Doppagne
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China must “win the hearts” of the Taiwanese people, Xi Jinping said, days after the country rebuffed Beijing’s warning not to vote for a pro-sovereignty president.

China’s president told the ruling Communist Party to “do a good job” at stoking “national awareness and patriotism” among the citizens of the island, as well as Macau and Hong Kong.

His remarks came after Taiwan on Saturday delivered a clear victory for Lai Ching-te, the candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), despite Chinese threats that choosing him could raise the risk of conflict across the Taiwan Strait.

China must “develop and strengthen the patriotic, pro-unification forces in Taiwan, oppose the separatist acts of ‘Taiwan independence’  and promote the complete reunification of the motherland,” Mr Xi said in an article published in Qiushi, the Communist Party journal, on Tuesday.

China’s government despises Mr Lai and the DPP, which it regards as dangerous separatists for defending Taiwan’s democracy and refusing to accept Beijing’s “reunification” aims. The Chinese Communist Party claims the island as its own territory even though it has never ruled there.

Lai Ching-te
Beijing does not have a high opinion of Lai Ching-te, Taiwan's newly elected president - AP/Ng Han Guan

Mr Xi’s article drew from a previous speech two years ago and outlined broad strategies for building a united front with allies. He said such work would become “more important” as internal and external situations “changed tremendously”.

The so-called united front, headed up by the “United Front Work Department” (UFW) is one of China’s most important tactics in exerting its influence abroad.

Broadly speaking, UFW officials develop long-term relationships and carry out activities that promote Beijing’s narrative on sensitive issues.

When it comes to Taiwan, the Chinese government switches frequently between a carrot and stick approach.

Beijing has threatened to invade the democracy of 23.5 million people if it refuses to submit to Chinese rule and annexation. The People’s Liberation Army frequently deploys its naval ships near Taiwan’s coastline, and flies military aircraft uncomfortably close to its airspace, in an attempt to intimidate the population.

It has also resorted to coercive economic and trade policies to try to bend Taiwanese public opinion to its will. But ahead of the elections, Beijing was also accused of trying to lure local Taiwanese leaders with all-expenses-paid visits to try to persuade them to advocate for pro-China candidates in the elections. Cases have been opened against dozens of local officials for accepting such gifts in a breach of Taiwan’s law.

Surveys suggest neither strategy is working.

Most Taiwanese view themselves as distinctly Taiwanese, embracing the “status quo” of de facto independence that affords them a high-ranking passport and the right to choose their leaders in democratic elections.

The crowd cheers at a Democratic Progressive Party rally in New Taipei City
The majority of Taiwan's population view themselves as distinctly Taiwanese - AP/Louise Delmotte

In a 2021 survey by the Taiwan New Constitution Foundation, almost 90 per cent of the public identified as Taiwanese and about two-thirds said they were willing to fight for the country in case of war.

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