OPINION – From Shanghai-Taipei Forum to Cross-Strait Youth Convention: Political Significance
Last week, two mainland-Taiwan forums, including the Shanghai-Taipei Forum and the Cross-Strait Youth Convention, were held through online video with significant political implications for the People’s Republic of China relations. China (PRC) and Taiwan.
The Shanghai-Taipei Forum was held on July 19 for the thirteenth time following the organization of the first forum in April 2010. It is an annual exchange between the leaders of the cities of Shanghai and Taipei on a whole series of issues affecting the economy, society, trade, transport, the elderly, sports, development of smart cities, sustainability and innovation technology. In December 2021, the two cities signed their cooperation protocol on animal protection, cultural and musical talent exchange, and information technology development. This year, the Forum used “perseverance, sustainability and popular culture” as the main themes and the two cities signed a cooperative memorandum of understanding on traffic economy, smart cities and human exchange at through chess games. Deputy mayors of Shanghai and Taipei, respectively Wu Qing and Pong Cheng-sheng, exchanged views on how to control carbon emissions. Climate change issues became a common concern in which both parties felt comfortable and productive in exchanging their experiences.
Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng and Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je gave their opening speeches. Gong said the two sides will persist in the idea of ”two straits as one family”, creating favorable conditions for Taiwanese entrepreneurs to invest in Shanghai and start their businesses there. Shanghai would offer Taiwanese the opportunity to learn from Shanghai, work there and reside there. Gong added that the Forum is important because it gives confidence to Taiwanese investors to do business in Shanghai.
Ko Wen-jie pointed out that the Forum represented the two cities’ persistence in enhancing cultural and business interaction. Both sides should strive for a win-win situation, Ko said, seeking to achieve peace and well-being for the people of the two straits.
Interestingly, some of Ko’s remarks went unreported in mainland media and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing press. Ko Wen-jie said that in recent years, tensions and clashes across the two straits have escalated, such as Taiwan’s bid to join the World Health Organization Assembly, the frequent appearance of mainland military aircraft in the airspace northwest of Taiwan and the difficulties of Taiwanese fruit products reaching the mainland market. All of these incidents, Ko said, “hurt the feelings of people across the two straits.” Taiwanese media observed that Ko’s position this year is stronger than that of last year, partly because Omicron’s persistence hampered his visit to the mainland, and partly because many issues needed to be addressed. discussed more openly than ever.
More importantly, Ko Wen-jie did not use the term “two straits as one family” – a move showing the increasingly strained relationship between the mainland and Taiwan. He advocated five principles for the two sides to improve their relations: mutual recognition, mutual understanding, mutual respect, mutual cooperation and mutual forgiveness. The Forum lasted only an hour and a half – the shortest forum in its history according to Taiwanese media.
The Forum took place at a time when Ko Wen-jie was soon to step down as mayor of Taipei. At present, three candidates from different parties are preparing to contest the Taipei municipal elections by the end of this year, including Chiang Wan-an of the Kuomintang (KMT), Chen Shih-chung of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP ) and Huang Shan-shan of the People First Party (PFP). Asked by reporters about their stance on the Shanghai-Taipei Forum, Chiang said he should proceed on the basis of mutual respect and goodwill. DPP’s Chen said the Forum should not be held under “current circumstances,” and would be held if circumstances change. Huang felt that because the Forum provides a channel for dialogue on both sides, it should take place.
Obviously, Chen took an ambiguous attitude, while Chiang and Huang responded much more affirmatively and positively. It remains to be seen whether a DPP mayor, if Chen wins as his popularity appears to have a slight advantage over Chiang according to recent opinion polls, would affect the continuation of the Shanghai-Taipei Forum.
On July 21, two days after the Shanghai-Taipei Forum, the Cross-Strait Youth Convention was held online. The two sides had 240 youth representatives to attend the convention, where the director of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the PRC State Council, Liu Jieyi, delivered a keynote speech. Liu said the convention represents a concrete action to respond to calls made by President Xi Jinping, who said young people from the mainland and Taiwan should have common wishes and should be given responsibilities in the new time. Liu hopes that young people from both sides will aim to achieve Chinese rebirth, complete the task of national reunification as an important task, and realize the Chinese dream together.
Beijing Deputy Mayor Chen Jining said Beijing has a rich historical and cultural heritage and the city will fully implement President Xi’s idea of ”two straits as one family”. This meant that Beijing would implement the measures favorable to the Taiwanese people to invest and reside there.
Chen Jining and Gong Zheng both used the term “two straits as one family” in their speeches, showing that mainland officials have prepared for the need to interact with the Taiwan side and adopted a positive attitude towards of mainland-Taiwan relations months before October. Party Congress, where mainland Taiwanese politics would likely be more advanced.
The Shanghai-Taipei Forum and the Cross-Strait Youth Convention were held with enormous political significance.
First, as the “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong has just entered the transition phase from “governance to emergence”, as President Xi declared in Hong Kong on July 1, PRC authorities have targeted Taiwan in their policy of engagement with intensive human interactions.
Second, the Shanghai-Taipei Forum remains a crucial point of human interactions at a time when Omicron persists. It is an important channel for dialogue on both sides. Even though the Forum’s atmosphere this year has been diluted mainly because of Omicron’s persistence and partly because of Ko Wen-jie’s outspokenness in his criticisms of the mainland’s policy towards Taiwan, the Forum offers a flat – Train the Taiwanese side to voice their grievances and for the mainland to listen more carefully to the concerns of the Taiwanese people.
Third, if the Forum and the Convention represent sincere efforts by the mainland to cement its relationship with the Taiwan side, more work needs to be done. Ko Wen-jie’s critical remarks, although not reported on the mainland, should be considered by mainland authorities. Although KMT Vice Chairman Sean Lien Sheng-wen gave a speech at the Convention to express his hope that young people on both sides would create a win-win situation, concrete actions should be taken after the disappearance of Omicron, hopefully in 2023. In other words, while the mainland’s united front work is focused on Taiwanese youth, there is still work to be done to win their hearts and minds.
Fourth, although foreign media, especially US media, have described the mainland’s relationship with Taiwan as so tense that military clashes are “imminent”, the reality is that the mainland has taken a positive approach to interacting. with the Taiwanese side in a much more prominent and assertive way.
In conclusion, holding the Shanghai-Taipei Forum and the Cross-Strait Youth Convention represented positive steps taken on the mainland side to reach out to the counterpart in Taipei and Taiwan. The forum and the convention were politically significant, which meant that the mainland began its policy of re-engagement with Taiwan, that they provided a platform for the Taiwanese side to express their views, that the work of the united front of the mainland on the Taiwanese people, especially the youth, resumed, and that the foreign media not only exaggerated the impending “military invasion” of the mainland in Taiwan, but also remained negative on the PRC without knowing objectively that every cloud has a silver lining. While the mainland’s message of creating a Chinese renaissance can cut through Taiwanese society in a broader and much deeper way, the future relationship between the mainland and Taiwan is not as bleak as pessimists assume.