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ANALYSIS/Beijing to continue pressure on Taiwan until mid-June: Scholars

06/01/2024 08:09 PM
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CNA file photo
CNA file photo

Taipei, June 1 (CNA) Beijing's latest wave of economic pressure on Taiwan, following last week's military exercises shortly after President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) took office, was "expected," scholars told CNA, noting that this approach would likely continue until mid-June, to balance its stance on Taiwan.

On Friday, China announced a plan to suspend the preferential tariff rates for a total of 134 Taiwanese imports that had been part of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), effective from June 15.

The move was mainly prompted by Taipei's refusal to acknowledge the "1992 consensus" and perceived efforts to promote Taiwanese independence, which had "severely undermined the foundation for cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations and the ECFA's implementation," according to China's Taiwan Affairs Office.

China previously took aim at preferential tariffs under the ECFA at the start of 2024, when it terminated favorable import duties on 12 Taiwanese products, arguing it was the result of Taiwan's restrictions on the imports of Chinese goods.

Friday's announcement immediately drew protest from Taiwan, with the country's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) calling Beijing's plan a "unilateral" decision made without consulting Taiwan.

China's 'expected' pressure on Taiwan

When asked about the issue, Taiwanese scholars specializing in cross-strait relations said that Beijing's latest economic measures, along with the military exercises around Taiwan and its outlying islands from May 23-24, were part of a series of "expected" actions in response to Lai's inaugural speech on May 20.

These measures taken by Beijing "are completely within the expectations" of analysts and Taiwan's high-level government officials, said Chang Wu-ueh (張五岳), an associate professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of China Studies.

He described it as "inevitable" for Beijing to escalate pressure on Taiwan after Lai's inauguration to express dissatisfaction with what it deemed a "provocative" act by Taipei's new leader.

Kuo Yu-jen (郭育仁), deputy head of Taipei-based think tank the Institute for National Policy Research, observed that while Beijing had no expectations for Lai's inaugural speech, it would not have anticipated him making such a clear distinction between the two sides on his first day in office.

He was referring to Lai's comment that "the Republic of China (Taiwan's official name) and the People's Republic of China are not subordinate to each other" in his address.

Kuo pointed out that while former President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), also of the Democratic Progressive Party, had made similar statements during her time in office, she did so mainly in National Day addresses.

The meaning of such a statement varies depending on the timing and occasion, he said, adding that Beijing might have taken it in "the most offensive" light.

Lai also mentioned in his speech that "We have a nation insofar as we have sovereignty... Persons possessing the nationality of the Republic of China shall be citizens of the Republic of China."

This novel statement, Kuo said, might also be interpreted by Beijing as yet another "two-states" theory, reminiscent of one first proposed by former late President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in 1999 to characterize ROC and People's Republic China as two different jurisdictions.

Beijing could ease pressure after mid-June

Nevertheless, both scholars contended that Beijing's pressure would start to ease after mid-June, when the 2024 edition of the Straits Forum is held in the Chinese province of Xiamen, to balance its tough stance on Taiwan.

Before the forum, Beijing might continue employing tactics familiar to Taiwan, such as poaching the country's diplomatic allies or announcing arrests and investigations into alleged Taiwanese spies, the scholars said.

Yet, Chang asserted that such pressure would not persist for long and that Beijing's approach toward Taiwan would soften after the June 15 forum in Xiamen.

He also argued that China would not proceed to suspend all tax concessions for Taiwanese goods under the ECFA or terminate the bilateral agreement entirely, as it is in Beijing's interest to continue promoting economic integration with Taiwan.

In practice, Kuo predicted that Beijing would unveil new measures to enhance people-to-people exchanges, including implementing policies in favor of Taiwanese conducting business in China and easing restrictions for Chinese students and tourists to study in or visit Taiwan.

Currently, individuals from Taiwan and China can visit each other's country, but group travel remains restricted by both governments.

At the same time, the Chinese government has since 2020 banned Chinese students from pursuing degree studies in Taiwan, permitting only exchange programs, summer camps, and other short-term educational activities.

Taiwan lukewarm to China's two-pronged strategy

Despite MAC's protest against the tax cut suspension on Friday, the Lai administration's reactions to Beijing's carrot-and-stick strategy will likely remain lukewarm, Kuo said.

Cross-strait relations are not Lai's main focus, Kuo noted, adding that the new president did not seem eager to make a breakthrough as long as the status quo could be maintained.

Chang, meanwhile, noted that Taipei had not made any policy adjustments after Beijing complained about its ban on Chinese imports, even after China moved to suspend tax cuts for Taiwanese goods for the first time.

He said that Taiwan would likely continue this stance, to avoid appearing to be "giving in" to Beijing's pressure.

(By Teng Pei-ju)

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