Taiwan's China-Friendly 2024 Hopeful Criticizes Beijing's Unification 'Bullying'

A Taiwan presidential hopeful who wants to run for the island's China-friendly main opposition has criticized Beijing's hardline rhetoric and likened its unification threats to bullying.

Media personality Jaw Shaw-kong, who rejoined Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) party in February after 28 years, suggested unification with the mainland was inevitable but said the fate could be indefinitely postponed as long as Taipei did not push for formal independence.

China's most recent high-profile pronouncements about the island nation came on Sunday when Foreign Minister Wang Yi said both sides of the Taiwan Strait "must be and will surely be reunified."

Speaking at a press conference during the annual meeting of China's legislature, he described unification as the "collective will" of the Chinese people. "It will not and cannot be changed," he added.

The diplomat's remarks also included a pointed message for the United States, which has expressed vocal support for Taiwan in recent years.

Wang said the Chinese government has "no room for compromise" when it comes to the self-governing island it claims is part of its territory.

"I have three questions for Wang Yi," Jaw, 70, said on his political commentary show on Monday. "Why must there be unification? How will there be unification? When will there be unification?"

He added: "If you say both sides of the Taiwan Strait are destined for unification, then you have to provide a reason. How will unification benefit Taiwan?"

"You can't say, 'I want unification, otherwise I'll beat you up.' That's bullying," he added.

Jaw said China is not yet capable of seizing Taiwan or has concluded that doing so would incur too heavy a cost. Unification would not happen in his lifetime or the next, he predicted.

An outspoken critic of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which backs Taiwan's self-determination, Jaw said it was important that Taipei did not move toward de jure statehood.

Beijing cares more about deterring Taiwan's independence than pushing for unification, he argued: "Opposing independence is a matter of urgency, but there is no timetable for unification."

Jaw added: "We at least have to let China think Taiwan will not run away. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait will marry one day."

"China has criticized Taiwan for plotting independence with the help of the United States. We can't let them think that way," he said. "The two sides might as well take care of their own internal affairs and decide accordingly in the future. What's the rush?"

Jaw, who owns a radio station and chairs a broadcasting company, was KMT's "golden boy" in the 1980s, when he served as a Taipei City councilor and lawmaker for the party, which once ruled the island of Taiwan with an iron fist before it was unseated for the first time by the DPP in 2000.

Jaw, who quit politics in 1996 shortly after a failed bid to become Taipei City mayor, has hinted at running for KMT chair this July, but party regulations mandating membership of at least one year may prevent him from doing so.

He has thrown his hat into the ring for Taiwan's 2024 presidential race, but his position as a media executive could become a legal stumbling block.

While official KMT policy has the Republic of China—Taiwan's formal name—claiming sovereignty over the islands of Taiwan and mainland China, it has in the recent decade shifted toward advocating for political parity across the Taiwan Strait, with closer and more friendly cultural and economic ties with Beijing.

But Jaw's views are unlikely to curry favor with Taiwan's younger voters, who care about Taiwan's future relationship with China but may not be moved by unification or independence issues alone, said political analyst Lin Pu, a Ph.D candidate at Louisiana's Tulane University.

Besides not offering anything new to the country's cross-strait policy, Jaw faces sizeable challenges from other KMT candidates who may appeal more to Taiwan's youth, Pu added. Voters under the age of 40 sided overwhelmingly with the DPP in 2016 and again last January

Taiwan's main opposition has been trying to make up for its youth deficit with a number of programs, but observers will have a clearer idea of the KMT's 2024 candidates depending on how the party fairs in next year's midterms, Pu added.

Correction 3/10/21, 9:25 a.m. ET: This article was updated to correct a misspelling of Jaw Shaw-kong's name.

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File photo: A paramilitary policeman stands guard before the Closing Ceremony of the 4th Session of the 13th CPPCC National Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 10, 2021. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images