Mao Zedong reportedly once said that warfare is 70 percent political. Arguably, no conflict in recent times has adhered to this concept more faithfully than China’s ongoing campaign to “reunite” Taiwan with the “Mainland.” While analysts have tended to focus on the threat which an increasingly powerful People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poses to the democratic island-nation, the political warfare component of Beijing’s “reunification” strategy has received much less attention, perhaps because cross-strait symposia on tea and culture are far less “newsworthy” than the latest missile boat or combat aircraft.
Given Beijing’s preference for “nonkinetic” solutions to the impasse (war would be costly and unpredictable), it makes perfect sense that its leadership would explore alternative means by which to win the war in the Taiwan Strait. Political warfare (or the “Three Warfares,” 三战), targeting both Taiwan and its supporters in the international community, is a favored instrument. There has been a growing number of interactions between Taiwan and China since 2008. And what with rapidly expanding cross-strait travel, academic exchanges and investment, the opportunities for China to engage in political warfare have increased exponentially.
Art and culture, benign as they may sound, are at the heart of China’s political-warfare strategy against Taiwan. But don’t be fooled by the innocuous façade provided by the cushy conference halls and beaming university students: Behind all this lies the PLA’s General Political Department Liaison Department (GPD/LD), “an interlocking directorate that operates at the nexus of politics, finance, military operations, and intelligence.”
Although the GPD/LD’s remit extends well beyond Taiwan, a large share of its resources is nevertheless committed to resolving the Taiwan “question” on terms that are favorable to Beijing.
The list of Chinese units that engage in or provide cover for political warfare against Taiwan is admittedly a long one. However, one organization that has gained prominence in recent years is the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC, 中华能源基金委员会), a Hong Kong–registered nongovernmental organization that advertises itself as a think tank (not to be confused with the French CEFC, where I am an associate researcher). A subsidiary of the CEFC China Energy Co., Ltd (Huaxin, 中国华信), the CEFC claims to have “partnerships” with several organizations and government bodies worldwide, including a number of Chinese universities, Hanban, oil companies, Rand Corp, the Privy Council’s Office of Canada, and the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The board chairman of the CEFC is Ye Jianming (叶简明), who is also listed as a founder of the aforementioned Huaxin, a multibillion-dollar energy logistics company (its reported income in 2013 stood at 209 billion renminbi, or US$33.4 billion) with several offices worldwide, including one on the twenty-first floor of the Taipei 101 skyscraper. Not much is known about the thirty-eight-year-old Ye. We know that he was deputy secretary general of the GPD/LD-linked China Association for International Friendly Contacts (CAIFC) from 2003-2005. According to journalists Andrew Chubb and John Garnaut, he may be related to Lt.-Gen. Ye Xuanning, GPD/LD director until 1998, or to Admiral Ye Fei, the PLA Navy commander from 1980 to 1982.
One subsidiary of the CEFC that is of particular interest is the China Institute of Culture Limited (CIOC, 中国文化院). Registered in 2012 (also in Hong Kong), the CIOC is a nationally supported organization in charge of “promoting Chinese culture.” Since its inception, the CIOC has organized—in both China and Taiwan—a series of cross-strait cultural events involving students, academics, entertainers and religious figures from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
On the Taiwan side, the pro-Beijing Want Want China Times Group and pro-unification Fo Guang Shan Foundation for Buddhist Culture and Education (佛光山文教基金會) have sponsored events. Both, for example, were co-sponsors of the “University Students’ Culture Experiencing Camp,” held in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, in January 2015. According to Forbes magazine, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), chairman of the Want Want China Times Group, is the richest man in Taiwan, with a fortune of US$8 billion.