Authorities on the democratic island of Taiwan are planning to counteract China's offer of smart residence permits for its 23 million people by barring anyone who takes up the offer from public office.
Beijing announced last month that residents of former colonies Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Taiwan, which has never been ruled by Beijing, will now be eligible for permanent residency and a smart ID card like those issued to citizens of mainland China.
But Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) warned that the offer will result in its people becoming "effective" citizens of mainland China, as they will be plugged directly into the ID card system that Beijing uses to track and control its population in every aspect of their daily lives.
Beijing began accepting applications for the cards at the beginning of the month, and its state-controlled media have run glowing endorsements of the scheme from Taiwanese people who can now access accommodation, banking, hotel rooms, and even education for their children on the same footing as Chinese citizens.
But the MAC has warned that the move is part of the Chinese Communist Party's "united front" strategy to neutralize potential threats to its rule and will expose its residents to comprehensive surveillance and monitoring.
Taiwan lawmakers have called for legislation requiring holders of the new card to be stripped of their citizens' rights on Taiwan.
This week, the MAC said it is planning to set up a registration system that will indicate who has been granted full residence rights in mainland China, which regards Taiwan as a province of China awaiting "reunification."
"We are hoping ... that this will strengthen security ... by requiring people living with these residence permits in mainland China to register on their return to Taiwan," MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng told a news conference in Taipei on Wednesday.
"For those people who hold the permits and who have lived there a long time, we would look at whether they should be [allowed to] hold public office or certain other roles, for example, those requiring security clearance," Chiu said.
On Sept. 9, Wang Ding-yu, lawmaker for Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party tabled an amendment to a law governing relations between the people of Taiwan and mainland China that would revoke citizenship from Taiwanese who apply for the new permits.
The move would be reversible if people wished to renounce their mainland Chinese residency and resume their status as nationals of Taiwan, Wang said.
He warned people against being lured to apply by the huge convenience attached to the cards.
"I believe Taiwanese businessmen will have to weigh these issues [of convenience versus surveillance] very carefully," said Wang.
Other similar amendments are in the pipeline from other parties, local media reported.
A number of risks
Academia Sinica researcher Lin Thung-Hong agreed that the residence card could pose a number of risks, citing the jailing of Taiwan democracy activist Lee Ming-cheh for subversion by authorities in mainland China last year.
"Personally, I think that the issue everyone should be most concerned about is the income tax law that was enacted at around the same time," Lin told RFA. "When you get a residence cards, you are admitting that you are resident in mainland China for more than 183 days a year."
"ID cards are linked in to the income tax law as an affiliated document, because to send someone a tax bill, you have to have their address, and you have to have their name, and evidence," he said. "They will be able to use information your residence card to estimate your income."
Around 60 percent of people polled in recent days said they support some kind of regulation for holders of the new residence cards, according to the Cross-Strait Policy Association.
And 59 percent of respondents agreed that applying for the card entails privacy risks, given China’s strict surveillance of its citizens, compared with 34.4 percent who disagreed.
Respondents were evenly split on whether the new arrangements would affect the political opinions of Taiwan voters, however, with around 47 percent on each side.
The Association said more than 20,000 people have reportedly applied for the permit from Taiwan, out of a million of the island's residents currently living on the mainland.
'Infiltration' and 'sabotage'
Last Sunday, China accused Taiwan’s spy agencies of stepping up their “infiltration” and “sabotage” activities on the mainland, warning against further damaging already strained cross-strait ties.
State television is running a series of programs detailing cases in which Chinese students studying in Taiwan have been targeted by undercover agents, who lure them with money, love, and friendship.
But the MAC rejected the allegations.
"The Mainland Affairs Council asks the mainland authorities not to politically manipulate mainland students studying in Taiwan and frame our personnel for engaging in espionage," it said.
The island's Republic of China government, a remnant of the Kuomintang nationalist regime that abandoned the Chinese mainland after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists in 1949, has said it will continue to pursue "greater democracy, freedom, and sovereignty."
Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence. Beijing has succeeded in isolating Taiwan diplomatically by insisting that its diplomatic partners break off ties with Taipei under the "One China" policy.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.