PINGTAN, Feb 1 – A few kilometres off the Chinese coast, Beijing has appointed a Taiwanese citizen as deputy chief of an experimental “common homeland” that is an unusually forward overture to Taipei.
Pingtan island is physically China’s closest spot to Taiwan, and is now also being transformed into its nearest approximation of a unified country, as part of Beijing’s long held dream to reclaim the self governing neighbour it considers a rogue province.
New towers crowd the shoreline and the glow of construction sites fills the night, while Taiwanese are being invited to serve in government, drive Taiwanese-licensed cars and open Taiwanese currency bank accounts.
But the economic potential of the “experimental zone” has yet to be proved, and with Beijing setting the rules, its hints at political integration may well be rebuffed.
“It’s basically the Chinese creating what they see as what future integration would look like without really much input from Taiwan,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser at the US based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“It may help some individual Taiwan companies make some money, but I don’t think it’s going to promote the political goals that they seek,” she added.
“The political symbolism in all of this is seen as potentially threatening to Taiwan.”
China’s brutal civil war ended in 1949 with the Communist Party controlling the mainland and the defeated Nationalists retreating to Taiwan.
For decades the threat of conflict loomed, with both sides claiming to represent the whole of China.
Beijing has described reunification as a “historical mission”, to be imposed by force if necessary.
But at the same time a “one country, two systems” model is on offer, similar to the arrangements with Hong Kong, the former British colony turned semiautonomous Chinese territory.
Beijing has sought warmer ties in recent years and in February a minister from Taipei will visit the mainland in the two sides’ first official contact in six decades.
Meanwhile authorities have also sought to attract Taiwanese along with their investment and knowhow with generous subsidies and fast track business services.
Pingtan goes further, with Beijing promising it will be “jointly planned, jointly developed, jointly operated, jointly managed, and jointly profiting”.