China holds out carrot ahead of Taiwan polls
TAIPEI: China is stepping up efforts to be nice to Taiwan ahead of key elections on Jan. 11, offering better treatment to Taiwanese in China and urging the democratic island to "come home", but many there only see Beijing wielding a threatening stick.
China denies interfering in elections in Taiwan, which Beijing claims as sacred territory, but it traditionally tries various means to influence their result, hoping politicians with a more positive view on China ties get into office.
These can range from military intimidation - China fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait before the 1996 election - to what Taiwan's government calls Beijing's manipulation of China-friendly Taiwanese media.
China also wants to ensure that Taiwan's huge business community in China is happy, hoping they will go home to vote for China-friendly politicians.
This month, China unveiled 26 measures to further open its economy to investors from Taiwan, and said Taiwanese abroad could turn to Chinese embassies for consular help.
Dovetailing with those steps has been an unusual Chinese effort at soft power to speak directly to people in Taiwan, a gentler approach after some hostile moves this year, such as a threat of force by President Xi Jinping in January.
Commenting on the 26 measures, Hai Xia, one of the highest-profile news presenters on Chinese state television, appealed for Taiwan to return "home". "Taiwan's fate is connected with the motherland. Wan Wan, come home," she said on air, employing a diminutive to refer to Taiwan and project a friendly message.
China has not only been using Mandarin, the official tongue on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, but has also deployed Hokkien and Hakka, two languages spoken on the island but whose formal use is not encouraged in China.
On Wednesday, it introduced Zhu Fenglian, a new spokeswoman for its policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, who voiced warm greetings in both languages at her first news conference. "I am a Hakka from Guangdong, I'd like first here to say hello to folks in Taiwan," she said, referring to the southern Chinese province while speaking in Hokkien, generally known in Taiwan as Taiwanese.