China tries to win support in Taiwan with economic links to closest mainland province

Military manoeuvres around Taiwan serve as a reminder that Beijing has a fallback option if hearts and minds cannot be won over

Four months before a presidential election in Taiwan that could shift the island’s political direction, Beijing this week outlined plans to make it easier for Taiwanese people to live, work and study in Fujian, its closest province on the Chinese mainland.

At the same time, China staged a large military exercise near Taiwan, where authorities said they tracked at least 143 war planes and 56 war ships entering their air defence identification zone between Monday and Thursday.

In a widely publicised position paper and a televised press conference, Xi Jinping’s government said it wanted to make Fujian, on the southeastern coast, the destination of choice for Taiwanese residents and businesses.

The plan promises to improve connectivity between Fujian and Taiwan, which is just more than 300km away, establishing “multidimensional and comprehensive transport corridors and hubs”.


Fujian’s schools and kindergartens will be open to Taiwanese children and the province’s universities will be encouraged to recruit more students from Taiwan. Businesses will be urged to hire Taiwanese workers and regulatory restrictions for employment will be eased or abolished, including for doctors and lawyers.

People from Taiwan will be allowed to settle in Fujian as easily as those moving to the province from other parts of mainland China and they will be encouraged to buy homes there. Trade barriers will be reduced and Beijing will promote industrial co-operation across the strait to integrate manufacturing and supply chains.

Many Taiwanese have genealogical roots in Fujian and they share a tradition of belief in the Chinese sea goddess Mazu and other folk beliefs. Interest in these traditions will be promoted, along with exchanges surrounding Buddhism and Taoism.

The islands of Kinmen and Matsu, which lie 5km and 20km off the Chinese mainland but are governed from Taiwan, are a special focus for the integration plan. Residents of Kinmen will enjoy the same privileges as local residents in Xiamen, the nearest city in Fujian, and the island will be able to use Xiamen’s airport.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council dismissed the plan as the latest doomed attempt to win Taiwanese support for reunification, suggesting that Beijing was seeking to “entice” companies to invest in mainland businesses.

“This is obviously an attempt to attract Taiwanese funds and talents to mainland China to boost its internal economy,” the council said.

The publication of the integration plan follows the appointment this year of Wang Huning, the fourth most senior figure in the Communist Party hierarchy, as deputy chairman of the central leading group on Taiwan affairs, which Xi heads.

A former professor of international politics at Fudan University, Wang has been the most influential party ideologue under the three most recent Chinese leaders, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi.

Wang’s challenge is to come up with a replacement for China’s “One Country, Two Systems” policy for Taiwan, which has been discredited following the crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong.

This week, Wang called for an effort to fight Taiwanese separatists and external intervention in the island’s affairs but spoke about the need to “strengthen the foundation of public opinion”.

Beijing hopes that if president Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) loses next January’s election, her successor will be more amenable. The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) favours dialogue with Beijing and senior party figures have visited the mainland recently for talks with officials.

Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of iPhone manufacturer Foxconn, is running as an independent on a platform promising to bring Taiwan “back from the abyss of war” with China.

Ko Wen-je, the former Taipei mayor running for the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) promises to avoid confrontation with Beijing while strengthening Taiwan’s military.

A poll of 12,000 potential voters by Formosa last week put Lai Ching-te, the DPP candidate, almost 20 points ahead of the KMT candidate Hou Yu-ih, with Lai on 35.3 per cent, Hou on 17.8 per cent, Ko on 17.1 per cent and Gou on 11.6 per cent.

Beijing has already denounced Lai as a troublemaker after he transited through the United States last month in defiance of its warnings not to do so.

China’s military manoeuvres around Taiwan this week served as a reminder that, as laid out in its 2005 anti-secession law, Beijing has identified a fallback option if hearts and minds cannot be won over.

“When possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.