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Brief #147: 2023 Work Conference on Taiwan Affairs

The 2023 Work Conference on Taiwan Affairs (2023年对台工作会议) was held on May 9 and 10. Wang Huning gave a speech outlining Beijing’s approach to cross-strait relations.

Wang Huning’s speech is notably more conciliatory than the one given by Wang Yang at the 2022 work conference: more emphasis on the carrots and less on the stick.

A few words on meeting types before we delve into the speech…

Work Conferences

The Chinese party-state holds two types of policy conferences on Taiwan affairs. The first is the “annual work conference,” which is attended by a Politburo Standing Committee member with the united front portfolio (i.e., head of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference).

Not sure why this year's work conference is so late - since 2009, when the annual work conference evolved into its current form, it has always been held in January or February each year.

The second is the “central work conference” (中央(全国)对台工作会议), the highest-level policy conference on Taiwan affairs. Attended by the full Politburo Standing Committee, major policy decisions, plans, and new concepts are expected to be decided upon during these conferences.

A “central work conference” on Taiwan affairs has been held three times: in December 1990, May 1998, and July 2004. The first two were held during the Jiang era, the third during the Hu era, and none have been held under Xi.

It is unclear why there has not yet been a “central work conference” on Taiwan affairs under Xi. My gut says we may see one in 2024 or 2025, or at least before the next Party Congress in late 2027. I doubt it will be held before the Taiwan presidential elections in January 2024.

2023 Work Conference

In March, Wang Huning replaced Wang Yang as the head of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, making him the Politburo Standing Committee member responsible for attending the annual work conference on Taiwan affairs.

Below is Wang Huning’s key message:

We must fully implement the overall strategy of the Party in solving the Taiwan issue in the new era and firmly grasp the initiative in cross-strait relations...We must adhere to the one-China principle and the "1992 Consensus" and promote peaceful development of cross-strait relations. We should uphold the concept of "both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family"; respect, care for, and provide benefits to, Taiwan compatriots; improve systems and policies to enhance the well-being of Taiwan compatriots; and continue to deepen cross-strait integration and development. We must resolutely oppose separatist activities for "Taiwan independence" and external interference, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.


Now, compare that to the key message from Wang Yang at the 2022 Work Conference on Taiwan Affairs:

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