On 5 November, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council (TAO) named Taiwan’s top office-holders — Premier Su Tseng-chang, Parliament Speaker You Si-kun and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu — in a “punishment list” of those deemed to be “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence”.
From the Anti-Secession Law of 2005, to the 13 poker cards showing “Taiwan independence supporters” in 2018, and now the TAO’s “punishment list” — all this shows an escalation of Beijing’s measures against Taiwan independence.
Some foreign media have assessed that this reflects Beijing’s anxiety over Taiwan being increasingly distanced from mainland China under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as well as its need to be accountable to the people of mainland China and show its determination to preserve national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The punishments by Beijing include not letting those on the list, as well as their family members, enter the mainland and its Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau; they and their organisations will not be allowed to cooperate with entities or people from the mainland, nor will their companies, or financial supporters, be allowed to profit from the mainland. Such people will also be criminally liable for life.
Taking aim at ‘funders’ of Green camp
Some academics and media on both sides of the Taiwan Strait note that the most damaging part of the penalties is that it targets Taiwanese businesses that give political donations to “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence supporters”, disallowing them from making a living from mainland China while biting the hand that feeds them. Among those on the blacklist, Su is the most affected. Once the support from his backers stops, Su’s daughter — DPP Legislative Yuan member Su Chiao-hui — and her campaigners will see their election funding shrink. Needless to say, electioneering is fuelled by political donations.
This is also why You could casually respond in Chinese on Facebook: “Thank you [TAO spokesperson] Ms Zhu Fenglian. However, I do not intend to stand for election, so please do not worry!” What this means is that since he does not intend to stand for election, he does not need to seek backers to raise money, so being blacklisted does not have much of an impact on him.
Mainland China academics and media almost unanimously think that the blacklist will have an enormous deterrent effect in cutting off a large part of funding for pro-democracy Green camp supporters and their families, and even impact Taiwan’s political situation.
But to some Taiwanese pundits and pro-establishment Blue camp supporters, this move by mainland China is a double-edged sword. The more harshly Beijing enforces punishments, the more it endorses that the pro-Taiwan independence supporters on the blacklist “love Taiwan”. This would actually gain the latter bonus points in Taiwan’s political milieu. From the guarded response by the Kuomintang’s (KMT) senior leaders, we can see that the Blue camp is particularly worried that Beijing might once again become the election “ATM” for the Green camp.
Ma Ying-jeou warns that actions can backfire
Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT said frankly that mainland China should get a better idea of Taiwan’s political situation before acting. “Sometimes, one slip can backfire.”
Addressing the Taiwan audience, KMT chairman Eric Chu also chose his words carefully, saying that this was a law in mainland China, and that it had nothing to do with Taiwan, which held to freedom of speech and democratic freedom.
By this logic, it is easy to understand why everyone in the Green camp is fighting to be a stubborn supporter of Taiwan independence, and why the three people named have all said that they feel honoured.
Pro-establishment United Daily News ran an article saying that a sense of pride has pervaded the DPP, thinking that being named by mainland China for supporting Taiwan independence is equivalent to being recognised as loving Taiwan.
Sense of pride in DPP
You wrote in Chinese on Facebook: “I’m in the news on China’s Xinhua again. It seems my international profile has gone up by quite a bit. Thank you for the honour!” And in response to queries at the Legislative Yuan, Su also said: “We are proud.”
Wu tweeted: “I've received countless notes of congratulations after being blacklisted & sanctioned, for life, by the #CCP. Many are jealous for not being recognized; some ask where they can apply for it. To deserve the rare honor, I'll keep fighting for #Taiwan's freedom & democracy.”
Pro-establishment United Daily News ran an article saying that a sense of pride has pervaded the DPP, thinking that being named by mainland China for supporting Taiwan independence is equivalent to being recognised as loving Taiwan. Many young Green camp party cadres joke that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is stepping in again to help with the upcoming elections, while the Blue camp also sighs that the CCP is the DPP’s best campaign assistant.
Taiwan's representative to Germany Jhy-Wey Shieh and DPP Legislative Yuan member Wang Ting-yu both protested at being left out of Beijing’s list. A Facebook fan page of Shieh posted in Chinese: “Add my name immediately to the list of stubborn supporters of Taiwan independence!”
Even Chiu Tai-san of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council — with his firm stance on sovereignty — also said on 8 November, in response to a query before the Legislative Yuan on whether he was “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence”: “I think to some extent, I am.” In an online interview, he also said that mainland China and Taiwan are unrelated, and any laws set by mainland China do not apply to the Taiwanese.
TAO a DPP ‘kingmaker’?
Media personality Wu Zijia — who was expelled by the DPP — said on his online show The Chairman Speaks (董事长开讲) that the TAO is now a “kingmaker” for the DPP, by rescuing Su and blocking Taoyuan mayor Cheng Wen-tsan.
He said by right, if the DPP loses in the four referendums that will be put to a vote at the end of this year, Su will have to step down in January next year. But now, regardless of the results, he can remain the head of the Executive Yuan, and possibly become a candidate for Taiwan President in 2024; after being “certified” by Beijing as “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence”, current Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will surely not dare to replace him.
Whether Su leaves or stays will have an impact on Cheng’s political career. As Wu Zijia said, if Su resigns as head of the Executive Yuan, Cheng could take over, and move closer to vying for the chance to represent the DPP at the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election. However, in the current situation where Cheng has been left out in the cold by the CCP so to speak, Su has solidified his position.
But because the “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” list is a double-edged sword, Wu Zijia predicts that Su would find himself in a bind: he could remain in his position as head of the Executive Yuan but he would not have money to run for election. In other words, unlike Wu or You (who has openly expressed that he’s not mounting a presidential bid), Su is privately worried about funding his election campaign despite saying that he feels proud to be on the list.
Lack of election funding for Su Tseng-chang’s daughter and his camp?
Wu Zijia noted that many rich Taiwanese businessmen have been avoiding Su’s calls since the blacklist was announced. He thinks that Su is in trouble as the local elections start next year and there are more than ten legislators in Su’s camp who need support. In other words, if wealthy Taiwanese businessmen with mainland dealings do not dare to donate to his campaign, his only source of election funding would be local investors.
Rumour has it that Su’s daughter Su Chiao-hui, a member of the Legislative Yuan, may run for mayor of New Taipei City. Some Taiwanese media speculate that Beijing wants to cut off the sources of Su Chiao-hui’s election funding.
Wu Zijia highlighted 18 enterprises that had previously made political donations to Su Chiao-hui’s campaign, pointing out that the top two highest donors were the Far Eastern Group and the Ruentex Group respectively. Not only that, the Far Eastern Group has businesses all across mainland China, while the Ruentex Group has deep connections in the mainland.
In addition, a TVBS article published on the Yahoo! News website reported that among the ten profit-making enterprises that made donations to Su Chiao-hui’s campaign, Feng Hsin Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. has a factory in the mainland, while Kindom Development’s Global Mall once opened a branch in Tianjin.
...among the listed and OTC-listed companies, 675 of listed companies and 524 OTC-listed companies have investments in the mainland. These 1199 enterprises may not dare to make political donations in their official capacity any longer for fear of repercussions.
On 7 November, former DPP legislator Julian Kuo Jeng-liang said on News Vernacular (《新闻大白话》), a political programme that airs on pan-Blue broadcasting company TVBS, that roughly 80% of Taiwan’s top 500 enterprises have operations in the mainland, and that Taiwanese enterprises often make donations to both of the major political parties. The Political Donations Act is a public one; many Taiwanese businessmen do business in a low-profile manner, or even go out of their way to avoid arousing suspicion. He thinks that Su could approach Taiwanese enterprises that do not do business in the mainland in the future, but very few such enterprises have reached a significant scale.
Financial expert Lai Xian Zheng said on the same programme that in 2020, among the listed and OTC-listed companies, 675 of listed companies and 524 OTC-listed companies have investments in the mainland. These 1199 enterprises may not dare to make political donations in their official capacity any longer for fear of repercussions. Thus, Beijing’s move is indeed a heavy-handed one.
Why are Tsai Ing-wen and William Lai Ching-te not on the blacklist?
Taiwanese media also noticed that Tsai and Taiwanese Vice-President William Lai have not been placed on the TAO’s list of those deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence”.
In Kuo’s assessment, Beijing carefully selects the individuals to place on the list. Because Lai could be the next Taiwan president, Beijing has refrained from including him so as to leave room for future interactions. Hence, the blacklist indirectly reveals that Beijing is not optimistic about Su’s 2024 presidential election bid.
On Shenzhen Satellite TV’s Greater China Live programme, commentator Liu Heping analysed that mainland China had already weighed the pros and cons before putting people on the list. The highest-ranking official facing the new punishments is Su Tseng-chang, head of the Executive Yuan. The reason why those in the top echelon like Tsai and Lai, who are elected by the people, were not targeted this time is clearly to leave room for manoeuvre in the future development of cross-strait relations.
But Liu reasoned that if Tsai and Lai did not pay heed to the warning, it would be “a matter of time” before they were added to the list.
Liu further surmised that the blacklist implies that the mainland’s earlier ratified Anti-Secession Law is not a dormant law; the mainland not only wants to use this law to target pro-Taiwan independence fighters in general but to precisely target certain personalities.
...if reunification takes place across the Taiwan Strait, those deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” would certainly be held criminally accountable. They would be poorly evaluated in Chinese history, and would most probably be labelled traitors.
As China-US strategic competition and the international situation become increasingly complicated, tensions in the Taiwan Strait are rising as well. It is possible that Beijing would implement further deterrents to warn the pan-Green camp against crossing the red line. Jun Zheng Ping (钧正平), an official account under the People’s Liberation Army media, warned in an article that publishing the list of those deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” was “just the beginning”.
In January, China sanctioned 28 US individuals. In March, it sanctioned ten European Union individuals and four entities. We shall wait and see if the list of those deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” grows longer or if the scope of punishment expands.
In the long term, if reunification takes place across the Taiwan Strait, those deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” would certainly be held criminally accountable. They would be poorly evaluated in Chinese history, and would most probably be labelled traitors.
In the short term, it would be worth noting the number of votes that the DPP manages to garner at the upcoming local elections, especially in terms of the performance of Su’s daughter and his pack. Will the label of being deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” cut off their source of political donations? Will Taiwanese voters detest those deemed “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence” or will they support them even more? Some light might be shed on the situation in the upcoming rounds of elections.
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