Fujian’s Cross-Strait Integration Zone and Its Political Significance
On September 12, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) published an “Opinion of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and State Council on the Exploration of Cross-Strait Integration Developmental Path and the Construction of Cross-Strait Integration Demonstration Zone,” delineating a detailed blueprint of fostering socio-economic and cultural interactions and integration between the mainland and Taiwan, especially the Kinmen and Matsu region. This plan can be seen as a crucial measure taken by the PRC after the Covid-19 era and before the Taiwan presidential election in early 2024 to appeal to the Taiwanese for greater integration with the PRC, particularly the Fujian province. It has tremendous political implications for cross-strait relations.
The main points of the Opinion are as follows:
First, the channels for the Taiwan compatriots to visit the mainland are facilitated and smoothened through the construction and consolidation of logistical infrastructure projects, which will form an entity for the collection and distribution of goods and products.
If so, it is obvious why the mainland media have recently reported on the idea of suggesting at least four places in Fujian where bridges can be built to link up the PRC with Kinmen.
Second, the Taiwan students’ study in Fujian is promoted by supporting Fujian’s higher education and scientific research institutes to accept and enrol them in an enlarged manner, and by supporting Taiwan’s special enterprises and industries to participate in Fujian’s vocational schools in the form of joint stock ownership and joint management.
The implication here is that the businesspeople of Taiwan are welcome and encouraged to participate in vocational school development in mainland China, stimulating more Taiwan students to study in Fujian.
Third, the Taiwan compatriots are encouraged to find jobs and get employed in Fujian through the direct recognition of Taiwan’s occupational qualifications, the provision of allowing Taiwan lawyers to practice law in the mainland, and the development and expansion of human resources services for them through the Taiwan enterprises in Fujian.
The implication is that such a move attempts at initiating the first step of mutual recognition of occupational qualifications in the long run while enhancing the integration of Taiwan lawyers into the Fujian legal profession in the short term.
Fourth, the social participation of Taiwan compatriots will be expanded in Fujian by supporting them to partake community construction and grassroots-level management in the province, and by supporting them to join occupational, academic, and professional groups.
The implication here is that the Taiwan people are encouraged to participate in Fujian’s resident, neighbourhood, and group activities, fostering deeper social integration into the mainland.
Fifth, the social life of the Taiwan compatriots in Fujian is facilitated and promoted by repealing the need for them to register as temporary residents there, by equalizing their treatment and benefits as with the mainland residents who hold mainland identity cards, and by encouraging them to buy apartment units and houses in Fujian.
This measure aims at speeding up the social integration of more Taiwan people into Fujian province through the relaxation of their privileges, citizenship status, and benefits and the liberalization of the Fujian property market to embrace the Taiwanese.
Sixth, industrial cooperation is going to be deepened by setting up cross-strait service platform, utilizing common standards of professions and industrial research, and by exploring how to build up the assessment and recognition system for Taiwan enterprises and businesses.
Specifically, the Fujian integration zone is trying to set up industrial integration funds, to support cross-strait stock exchange centres, to encourage the participation of more Taiwanese enterprises in the mainland’s monetary and financial markets. The Taiwan fishery industry and small and medium enterprises are encouraged to develop and conduct business in Fujian. Similarly, the research institutes of Fujian and Taiwan are encouraged to develop their platform in skills and knowledge exchange, promoting digital and industrial transformation.
It remains to be seen how the Fujian’s stock market development can and will lure the Taiwan investors. Moreover, the sensitivity involved in skills and knowledge transfer will likely be a hindrance to the idea of “industrial integration,” which can perhaps be regarded as a long-term goal.
Seventh, Xiamen and Kinmen are going to be reshaped as “the same city of social life,” meaning that Xiamen is empowered to reform its interactions with Kinmen with more autonomy, that the Kinmen residents will enjoy the same residents’ benefits as with the mainlanders in Xiamen, and that both places will speed up the provision of electricity, gas, bridges and the mutual usage of the Xiamen airport.
Moreover, Matsu residents enjoy the same residents’ benefits as with those people in Fuzhou, while the provision of electricity, water, gas, and bridges by Fuzhou to Matsu is speeded up.
The implication here is that Xiamen is used as a bridgehead to deepen socio-economic interaction and integration with Kinmen and Matsu where the Taiwan residents are treated as having the same benefits of the Fujianese.
Eighth, Fujian’s Pingtan county is going to liberalize the financial system of facilitating Taiwan investment, cross-border services, and trade, and to explore the pilot construction of a cross-strait common market. Fujian will consider opening its door to Taiwan’s information service industry and education sector.
The implications here are the study of liberalizing the financial, trade and services market in Fujian’s Pingtan, serving as a pilot study to integrate Taiwan’s service and education sectors.
Ninth, social and human interactions between Fujian and Taiwan are promoted by allowing Taiwan groups to set up their offices in Fujian, by promoting research institutes of the Xiamen University to interact with Taiwan’s think tanks, by encouraging cross-strait youth exchange and groups interaction, and by establishing Fujian-Taiwan cooperative items through the exhibition of Chinese culture to overseas visitors.
The implication here is that the educational and cultural sectors of Fujian are liberalized to facilitate socio-cultural and educational integration with Taiwan.
Overall, the Fujian integration zone has tremendous political significance, especially if this Opinion is analysed together with the State Council’s August 2022 White Paper on the Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era.
First, the Opinion can be regarded as part and parcel of “the Taiwan model of ‘one country, two systems,’” utilizing Fujian as the direct bridgehead and platform to integrate with the people and island of Taiwan socially, culturally, and economically. The August 2022 White Paper emphasized the importance of “promoting peaceful cross-strait relations and integrated development.” As such, the Opinion published on September 12, 2023, is an elaboration of the concrete plans and policy toward “integrated development.” The White Paper mentioned explicitly that China “will explore an innovative approach to integrated development and take the lead in setting up a pilot zone for integrated cross-Strait’s development in Fujian province, advancing integration through better connectivity and more preferential policies, and based on mutual trust and understanding.” In fact, the Opinion delineates all the preferential treatment of the mainland toward the Taiwan compatriots, outlining the contours and content of “integrated development” between the mainland and Taiwan.
Second, by utilizing Fujian and its Xiamen city as well as Pingtan county, the Opinion seeks to shape and change the identity of more Taiwan people. If more Taiwan people visit the mainland to study, work, reside and do business in the Fujian province, their social and cultural identity will hopefully become more Chinese, thereby generating an identity of recognizing the importance and the need for “Chinese renaissance” and Chinese “national reunification and rejuvenation” in the long run. In fact, it is quite possible that the more the Taiwan compatriots are socially and culturally integrated into the mainland, the more likely they will support Chinese national renaissance, reunification, and rejuvenation. Such silent transformations of the identity of more Taiwan people will, hopefully, shape how they would perhaps influence the way of the Taiwan government thinks about Taiwan’s integration with the mainland, especially Fujian.
Third, the idea of utilizing Fujian to target at Kinmen and Matsu as the front yard of socio-cultural and economic integration is a wise one, because if the White Paper did mention the possibility of a stage-by-stage” process of negotiation and dialogue between the mainland and Taiwan on national reunification, then obviously the islands of Kinmen and Matsu constitute the pilot points for such deeper integration and experimentation with the Taiwan model of “one country, two systems.”
Fourth, the creation of the Fujian integration zone is parallel to how the mainland has utilized the Greater Bay Area (GBA) to integrate both Hong Kong and Macau more deeply into the mainland’s social, cultural, and economic orbits – a similar pattern pointing to the usage of zones or specially designed districts as the windows of socio-cultural, economic, and later political integration. The cases of Hong Kong and Macau have been successful ones in this process of socio-cultural, economic, and political integration, especially through the usage of infrastructure projects like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the High-Speed Rail. It can be anticipated that Fujian will likely link up with Kinmen and Matsu through bridges and similar High-Speed Rail. What makes the case of Taiwan’s integration with the mainland challenging is that due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the past four years, socio-cultural and economic-human integration between the two places were terminated. It is now the ripe time to speed up socio-cultural and human integration between the mainland and Taiwan.
Fifth, the timing of the publication of this Opinion coincides with the forthcoming campaign of the 2024 Taiwan presidential elections, meaning that the initiatives from the mainland are testing how the candidates of the Taiwan presidential elections will react. Hou You-yi of the Kuomintang stated on September 15 that while China’s intention of reunifying Taiwan has not changed, Taiwan has “its own principle” in dealing with the mainland. His remark points to a more cautious reaction that avoids affiliating the KMT too closely and too quickly with the mainland’s integration plan, while buying more time for the KMT to come up with its platform on cross-strait relations.
In short, the Opinion is going to test the responses from the KMT led by candidate Hou, the People’s Party led by Ko Wen-je, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led by candidate William Lai. Cross-strait relations will likely be a key party platform that will shape the ideas, decisions, and votes of many Taiwan voters in the January 2024 presidential elections.
In conclusion, the publication of the Opinion represents an elaboration of the plan of “integrated development” mentioned in the August 2022 White Paper on the Taiwan Question. The Opinion has tremendous political significance not only because it is part and parcel of the Taiwan model of “one country, two systems,” but also because it aims at promoting the identity transformation of more Taiwan people, fostering a “stage-by-stage” process of interactions and dialogue, utilizing infrastructure projects as the key united front strategy of socio-cultural and economic integration, and testing the responses of candidates of different political parties in Taiwan in the current run-up to the January 2024 presidential elections.