China Power

KMT Continues Outreach to Beijing With Legislators’ Trip to China

Recent Features

China Power | Politics | East Asia

KMT Continues Outreach to Beijing With Legislators’ Trip to China

Less than a month after former President Ma Ying-jeou’s meeting with Xi Jinping, the KMT sent 17 sitting legislators to China as an “ice breaker.”

KMT Continues Outreach to Beijing With Legislators’ Trip to China

KMT legislators from Taiwan visit the Beijing High-Level Autonomous Driving Demonstration Zone Innovation Operation Center, Apr. 28, 2024.*

Credit: Facebook/ 傅崐萁

A delegation of 17 KMT legislators, led by KMT legislative caucus convener Fu Kun-chi, returned from a three-day trip to China on Monday. The trip was initially scheduled to begin and end earlier, but Fu delayed the trip by one day after an earthquake struck his constituency of Hualien earlier last week, itself an aftershock of a larger quake in early April. 

The trip has not received a significant amount of international coverage, compared to international interest regarding the April 10 meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, also of the KMT, in Beijing. At the same time, the Fu trip is significant, in that Ma visited China as a private citizen, while Fu and the 16 other KMT legislators are sitting lawmakers. As the KMT legislative caucus consists of 54 legislators, just under one-third of the entire caucus made the trip to China.

Of the 16 legislators that traveled with Fu, some had made more than one trip to China in recent memory – it was noted after the return of the Fu delegation that KMT legislators had made 24 official trips to China in the last few years. 

Just last month, one of the members of Fu’s delegation, Indigenous legislator Sasuyu Ruljuwan, was in China as part of cultural exchanges with “ethnic minority groups” in China. Beijing seeks to reach out to Indigenous groups in Taiwan through exchanges with ethnic minority groups aimed at showing them the benefits that Taiwanese Indigenous peoples could have after unification. Consequently, one notes that a number of Indigenous KMT legislators, such as Huang Jen, Sasuyu Ruljuwan, and Sra Kacaw, were part of the recent delegation. 

Two members of the delegation were late additions, with Lo Ming-tsai and Wang Hung-wei joining at the last minute after proceedings at the legislature finished early. The presence of legislators from outlying islands – such as Kinmen legislator Chen Yu-chen and Matsu legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng – is also worth noting. Earlier this year, a crash between a Taiwanese Coast Guard ship and a Chinese fishing boat intruding in Kinmen territorial waters led to two deaths. Afterward, China vowed to step up maritime patrols in the area.

Fu described the latest trip as an “ice breaker” with Chinese counterparts aimed at peace before President-elect Lai Ching-te of the DPP takes office. The legislators held meetings with Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) director Song Tao and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief ideologist Wang Huning, who has taken an increasingly proactive role in Taiwan matters. In this sense, as with Ma’s visit to China several weeks prior, the trip was aimed at shoring up the KMT’s claim to be the only political party in Taiwan able to communicate with the CCP and, in this way, maintain stable cross-strait relations. 

It is not surprising, then, that the Chinese government announced several new measures after the trip. One of Fu’s stated purposes in traveling to China was to promote Taiwanese agricultural products. While hosting Fu’s delegation, China announced it would lift bans on pomelos, citrus fruit, and other agricultural and fisheries products from Taiwan. The bans had been in place since August 2022, as a sign of displeasure against Taiwan after then-U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan that month. 

Likewise, the Chinese government announced that group tourism from Fujian Province to the outlying island of Matsu would be allowed to resume. Further resumptions for group tours would be contingent on Taiwan allowing ferry routes from the cities of Taipei and Taichung in Taiwan proper to Pingtan County in Fujian to resume. The TAO also called for the resumption of flight routes between Taiwan and 29 Chinese cities.

After Fu’s return, he stated that China would be willing to allow for the resumption of flight routes between Taiwan and such cities. Fu also said that China would allow residents of 20 major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Tianjin to apply for travel to Taiwan. 

Such measures may be aimed at economically pressuring groups in Taiwan reliant on the Chinese market, such as tour operators for Chinese group tours. Likewise, farmers of some agricultural products have become increasingly dependent on the Chinese market in past years, despite the possibility of sudden politically motivated bans. This indicates that the Chinese government likely intends to continue a Taiwan policy that used familiar economic carrots and sticks. 

Moreover, if Fu’s visit is indeed an “ice-breaker,” the KMT may intend to continue efforts to route around the outgoing Tsai administration and incoming Lai administration to conduct meetings with Chinese government officials so as to frame the KMT as able to maintain stable cross-strait relations, negotiate with China, and dial back tensions in a way that the DPP cannot. 

For its part, however, the DPP has criticized the lack of transparency regarding what was discussed during meetings with the Fu delegation and Chinese officials. A new bill introduced by DPP legislators Lai Jui-lung and Puma Shen calls for lawmakers to disclose itineraries for closed-door meetings in China, to receive approval from relevant authorities before traveling, and for lawmakers with access to classified information of high importance to have restrictions on travel to China. This takes place at a time when KMT legislators such as Ma Wen-chun, who represents the KMT as co-chair of the defense committee of the legislature, have been accused of leaking sensitive details of Taiwan’s domestic submarine program to China and South Korea. 

After Fu’s trip, the DPP has also criticized labor legislation introduced by the KMT as aimed at bringing Taiwan in line with Chinese labor law. Fu was also criticized by the DPP for leaving behind Hualien in its time of need to rush to China. 

Either way, the trip seems to reflect Fu’s rising star within the KMT. Fu has long been a controversial figure even within the KMT, due to having faced numerous corruption charges in the past, ranging from insider trading to bribing the media for positive coverage. Fu’s wife, Hsu Chen-wei, is the current magistrate of Hualien but became county magistrate initially after Fu divorced her and named her deputy country magistrate before a jail stint. Fu’s actions, including running for county commissioner without the party’s endorsement, led to his being expelled from the KMT in 2009. 

KMT chair Eric Chu allowed Fu to return as part of an initiative in 2021 to rebuild ties with older members who had since left the party. Fu’s return was controversial, especially among younger members of the KMT who called for the party to clean up its party image. Fu also faced allegations of vote buying in the KMT Central Standing Committee election after he and Hsu performed unusually well. 

Yet Fu became the KMT’s caucus convener through a probable dealmaking process that originally involved Fu throwing his hat into the already tight race for the Legislative Yuan president, then withdrawing his bid. Since then, he has since made amends with former critics of his within the KMT, such as new legislator Hsu Chiao-hsin, a political firebrand who is one of the KMT’s young rising stars. 

Fu may increasingly be a force to reckon with in the KMT, especially in subsequent election cycles. 

*The photo caption previously said KMT legislators visited Horizon Robotics. They actually toured the Beijing High-Level Autonomous Driving Demonstration Zone Innovation Operation Center.