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‘Unification won’t fall from sky’: Beijing urged to open up doors to Taiwan

‘Unification won’t fall from sky’: Beijing urged to open up doors to Taiwan
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Mainland China adviser calls for ‘unilateral opening up’ to Taiwan for faster unification, cites Cold War West Germany

A noted policy adviser has called on Beijing to adopt the integration policies of former West Germany and “unilaterally open” up the borders to all Taiwanese for speedier unification.

Zheng Yongnian, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Shenzhen campus, made the call on Wednesday at a seminar focusing on academic and people-to-people exchanges across the Taiwan Strait.

“Unification will not fall from the sky automatically. In world history, unifications have always been achieved with a carrot and stick, and the carrot must be sweet,” Zheng told the seminar in Guangzhou, according to a transcript seen by the South China Morning Post.

Song Tao, chief of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office overseeing cross-strait matters, and Huang Kunming, the Communist Party secretary for Guangdong province, were among senior officials present at the event.

Zheng has been widely seen as an influential adviser to the top leadership after his appearance in 2020 at an economic and social policies symposium of Beijing’s decision-making Politburo, chaired by President Xi Jinping. He is also a member of the Hong Kong Chief Executive’s Policy Unit Expert Group, formed last May.

His remarks in the Guangdong provincial capital came days after Beijing wrapped up large-scale air-and-sea military exercises in a simulated blockade of Taiwan, as it accused its new leader William Lai Ching-te of sending “dangerous signals” on independence in his inaugural speech on May 20.

Zheng Yongnian is seen as the first mainland academic to openly advocate for “unilateral opening-up” by Beijing following the Covid-19 border closures. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China to be reunited by force if necessary. Most countries, including the United States, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state but Washington opposes any attempt to take the self-governed island by force and is committed to supplying it with weapons under its Taiwan Relations Act.

Warning about Washington’s “very dangerous cognitive war” on the Taiwan issue in recent years, Zheng suggested that Beijing counter it with better “socioeconomic and cultural exchanges” across the Taiwan Strait, while its People’s Liberation Army could just “keep an eye on things”.

Calling on both sides of the strait to achieve peaceful unification and avoid historical tragedies such as war, Zheng said mainland China should learn from the West German policy during the Cold War, which treated those coming in from East Germany as citizens with equal rights.

“This is a very good [model] and [we can adopt it] to encourage cross-strait exchanges,” he said, adding that the mainland should take the initiative on this.

“Since we regard Taiwan as a province, that’s all the more reason for us to implement a unilateral opening up to Taiwan,” said Zheng, who is the dean of the new public policy school at CUHK-Shenzhen.

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Citing the concept of the “cross-strait common market” – as proposed by former Taiwanese vice-president Vincent Siew Wan-chang – Zheng also called for Taiwan to be included in what he called the “southern China common market”, with the Greater Bay Area at its core and integrating the mainland coastal provinces of Hainan and Fujian, as well as the also proposed China-Asean common market.

Zheng became the first mainland academic to openly advocate for “unilateral opening-up” by Beijing, when he called for allowing more unilateral visa-free travel to the mainland in 2021, following prolonged border closures over the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mainland government has announced a string of unilateral visa-free arrangements since late last year, including for the citizens of several European countries, as well as Malaysia closer to home.

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