Beijing said it will not tolerate Taiwanese businessmen supporting the island’s independence “with money they earned on the mainland”, even as it gave reassurances that its policies towards them would not change.
“Many Taiwanese businessmen are concerned that Beijing’s policies towards them might change because of the shift in Taiwan’s political atmosphere since Tsai Ing-wen became president in May,” Zhang Zhijun, the director of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said on Friday.
“We welcome Taiwanese businessman to pursue their future on the mainland but we absolutely will not allow them to support Taiwan independence after they return to the island with money earned from mainland.”
The comments by Zhang, who was speaking at a forum of Taiwanese businessmen in Zhengzhou, Henan province, came a few hours before an annual US defence policy bill suggested a plan to conduct high-level military exchanges with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province.
They also follow a dispute over military vehicles that were seized in Hong Kong last week while they were being shipped from Taiwan to Singapore.
The incident has fuelled cross-strait tensions since Taiwan’s independence-leaning DPP government said it would encourage trade ties with Southeast Asian countries under its “New Southbound Policy”.
Zhang said that although mainland leaders had repeatedly promised that Beijing’s policies would not change because the “different Taiwan situation”, he reiterated that Beijing would abide by the 1992 consensus no matter what happened in Taiwan.
The 1992 consensus is an understanding between Beijing and Taiwan’s former ruling Kuomintang that there is only “one China”, but each side would have its own interpretation of what constitutes “China”.
However, the official communication channels agreed to by Beijing and the KMT were closed after Tsai refused to endorse the consensus, which had formed the basis of cross-strait ties. The consensus therefore elevated the status of Taiwan businessmen on the mainland, whom Beijing hoped could help convey its messages to Taipei.
Observers said Zhang’s comments were meant both to deter Taiwan’s so-called “green merchants” as well as to draw them onside.
“Green merchants” are Taiwanese businessmen who implicitly or explicitly support Taiwan independence with the money they earn from their businesses on the mainland.
Green is the official colour of Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Ni Yongjie, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Taiwan Studies, said “Zhang means to deter moves by green merchants and were directed at Tsai’s government, since she doesn’t support the 1992 consensus”.
“The different cross-strait situation will not affect Taiwan businessman who support the 1992 consensus, but Zhang’s words will certainly be met with strong opposition from Taiwan’s green camp,” said Jay Shane, vice-director of the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland, who has run a furniture company on the mainland since 1988.
“I think Beijing will take some form action against green merchants, but if Beijing really punishes them or treats them in an unequal way, the Tsai government can hardly respond with protective measures,” Shane said.
“I think more Taiwan businessman will pursue careers on the mainland, and Beijing will move to draw them to its side.”
China firmly opposes the United States and Taipei carrying out any form of official contact or military exchange
Geng Shuang, Foreign Ministry spokesman
Meanwhile, speaking on the US defence policy bill on Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing that “China firmly opposes the United States and Taipei carrying out any form of official contact or military exchange”.
The US$618.7 billion National Defence Authorisation Act will likely come up for a vote in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, possibly next week. Part of the bill “expresses the sense of Congress that (the US Department of Defence) should conduct a programme of senior military exchanges between the United States and Taiwan”.
Additional reporting by Reuters