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Taiwan's future lies in deeper integration with Chinese mainland

Zhou Wenxing

 , Updated 11:57, 14-Jan-2024
File Photo: A street view in China's Taiwan. /CFP
File Photo: A street view in China's Taiwan. /CFP

File Photo: A street view in China's Taiwan. /CFP

Editor's note: Zhou Wenxing, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is an assistant professor at the School of International Studies, Nanjing University. He writes extensively on comparative politics and international relations, with an emphasis on the Taiwan question and China-U.S. relations. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

2024 marks the 45th anniversary of the issuance of the "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan" by the Standing Committee of the Fifth National People's Congress on January 1, 1979. This programmatic document formally put forward the major policy of peaceful reunification with the Taiwan region. Meanwhile, the Chinese mainland initiated a series of favorable measures to facilitate Taiwan compatriots to visit relatives and friends as well as work and run businesses on the mainland.

The Chinese mainland's major policy shift occurred in the context in which the international environment underwent drastic changes as the Cold War became a thing of the past. The world has therefore ushered in a new era of great reconciliation and cooperation. With closer economic, trade, investment and cultural exchanges among countries and regions, the world turns out to be a global village that is expected to become increasingly interdependent.

The evolution of the international environment, along with changes on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, has injected new impetus into the positive and rapid development of cross-Straits relations, which were fraught with military confrontations, political deadlocks and cultural estrangement before 1979. Indeed, the past 45 years have witnessed great progress in trade and investment, people-to-people exchanges and social interaction across the Straits.

In terms of trade, according to the State Council Information Office of China, the trade volume between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan region doubled from $160.03 billion in 2011 to $328.34 billion in 2021. According to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce of China, the investment from the Taiwan region into the Chinese mainland in 2021 reached $940 million.

From the perspective of personnel exchanges, the increasing number of cross-Straits marriages and visits highlight the fact that both sides are one family. A recent report reveals the total number of cross-Straits marriages exceeded 350,000 as of June 2023. Between 1988 and 2018, the number of cross-Straits visits exceeded 130 million. In a word, cross-Straits ties on the whole have shown a positive momentum of development as both sides open their door even wider.

On the other hand, one should not neglect the setbacks to the development of cross-Straits relations. The elections of regional leaders on the island, as well as interference by external forces, have led to periodic challenges and even crises across the Straits.

For instance, since the Democratic Progressive Party authorities led by Tsai Ing-wen came to office in 2016, the overall investment from Taiwan in the mainland has fallen by about 44 percent, compared with that during the Kuomintang authorities led by Ma Ying-jeou. Meanwhile, the number of mainland students pursuing their degrees in Taiwan has dramatically dropped by nearly 90 percent, from a peak of 41,975 in 2016 to 3,143 in 2022.

Despite that, cross-Straits relations are now moving toward a new stage of deeper integration and high-quality development due to the sustained development and prosperity of the Chinese mainland, which provides sufficient support and guarantee for the integrated development of cross-Straits relations. In recent years, the mainland has issued a series of general policies and specific measures to promote integrated development across the two sides of the Straits.

University students from both sides of the Taiwan Straits participate in a youth camp in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, December 6, 2023. /CFP
University students from both sides of the Taiwan Straits participate in a youth camp in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, December 6, 2023. /CFP

University students from both sides of the Taiwan Straits participate in a youth camp in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, December 6, 2023. /CFP

For example, the State Council unveiled a guideline in September 2023 to support the coastal Fujian Province in exploring a new path of cross-Straits demonstration zone for further integrated development. This is commonly viewed as a crucial measure aimed at promoting greater socio-economic and cultural integration of the two sides. The document has listed some concrete measures, such as the simplification of the process of their residence permits and access to public schools for their children to help Taiwan compatriots settle down in Fujian Province.

More critically, integration with the mainland gains the support from a majority of the public on the island. According to a poll issued in March 2023 by a Taipei-based public opinion institute, nearly 80 percent of the respondents have a positive attitude towards the promotion of communication between the two sides of the Straits.

Like people in any other place, the pursuit of a more peaceful and stable life is the common aspiration of all people on the island. The above-mentioned survey also finds that, rather than cultural estrangement, political deadlock and military confrontations, most people on the island welcome the resumption of cultural exchanges and economic and trade exchanges between both sides. They also expect some further measures to boost political dialogues and military de-escalation across the Straits.

The joint efforts of cross-Straits exchanges, dialogues and cooperation in the past 40-plus years have laid an indispensable foundation for peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits. At the critical juncture featuring the rapid development of the mainland and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the Taiwan authorities, as well as people from all walks of life in the Taiwan region, should not only accept but promote measures facilitating deeper integration with the mainland. Taiwan's future lies in deeper integration with the Chinese mainland.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.) 

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