Beijing has reportedly been devising new measures to ramp up its efforts to sway Taiwanese voters’ perception of the mainland and the drawn-out protests in Hong Kong.
The new measures are part of a plan to lift the prospects of the Kuomintang party’s presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu and poach support from the incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen in the lead-up to the January election.
Taiwanese papers revealed that, as seen in the previous polls, Beijing may channel funds via trusted businessmen for the mainland-friendly KMT, but this time it would take a back seat to let Han spell out his vision on his stumping tour.
Beijing has also been taking out advertisements and running sponsored op-eds in the island’s media, though the ideological campaign is carefully coordinated to appeal to voters, euphemistically, to go for Han if they dread the thought of the antagonism on both sides of the Taiwan Strait raging on.
Beijing’s latest move at the end of July to ban mainlanders from visiting Taiwan under an individual visitor scheme is another sign that it has adopted a deft approach instead of mere military posturing to close in on the island. Beijing hopes that with the new travel ban, Taiwan’s tourism and hospitality sectors and their employees would be forced to argue that only a leadership change could benefit the economic outlook.
All of these strategies are because Beijing is circumspect not to play into Tsai’s hands when walking the well-trodden path to use economic and military means – like imposing unilateral embargoes and staging new war-games near the self-ruled island – to teach Taiwanese to vote wisely.
But not all sides have become attuned to Beijing’s new strategy yet.
The Global Times, a bellicose tabloid, has gone so far as to suggest the mainland stop group tours to the island, sanction Taiwan companies that depend on the mainland for profits but support secession and launch more and bigger military drills.
Han, in the meantime, has warned that if Tsai gets another four years in office, Beijing would get even tougher with more pugnacious drills and lure Taipei’s dwindling number of diplomatic allies to sever ties and switch recognition to Beijing.
Observes say many voters have closed their ears to such fear-mongering, citing the fact that the independence-leaning Lee Teng-hui still managed to clinch a neat win with more than half of the vote in the 1996 polls despite Beijing’s economic sanctions and live drills by the People’s Liberation Army close to Taiwan’s waters.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party, which favors Taiwan independence, have long framed Beijing’s intents as threats to the island’s democracy and said that the current unrest in Hong Kong also foreshadows Taiwan’s future if it is brought back into Beijing’s fold.
More perceived coercion from the mainland can translate into more support for Tsai, whose popularity ratings have been on a steady rise since Xi Jinping stressed a resolve to “recapture” the island, even by force, in his New Year’s speech and since the start of the mass rallies in the former British enclave in June.
Taiwanese voters have long been used to that kind of pressure and that explains Beijing’s caution in not overplaying its hand, fearing a backlash from the island’s electorate.