Xi Jinping says China and Taiwan ‘must be unified’
Chinese president ratchets up the pressure on Taiwan’s pro-self-rule government
President Xi Jinping ratcheted up the pressure on Taiwan’s pro-self-rule government on Wednesday, asserting China’s right to use military force against “foreign powers” that intervene on the issue of independence for the country.
Mr Xi said Taiwan “must be unified, will be unified” with China in a sharp rebuke to President Tsai Ing-wen, who this week said that her people wanted to maintain self-rule and has courted closer ties with the US.
“Chinese people do not fight other Chinese,” Mr Xi said, but added that Beijing would take “necessary measures” against foreign interference and “a small number of Taiwanese independence activists and separatist activities”.
Mr Xi’s speech is the latest in a series of aggressive signals towards Taiwan and the US over the past year, amid concerns in Beijing about warming relations between Taipei and Washington.
Ms Tsai on Tuesday used a new year’s address to call China’s attempts to “interfere in Taiwan’s internal politics” her “greatest challenge”. Her remarks came a day after US president Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, a new law that promotes US arms sales and high-level visits to Taiwan.
Mr Xi’s speech marked 40 years since Beijing ended the military bombardment of Taiwanese-controlled islands off the mainland to instead focus on diplomacy. The two sides have been at loggerheads since the Communist party took power in China nearly 70 years ago and the former ruling Kuomintang party fled to Taiwan.
China claims Taiwan is its territory.
A senior Taiwanese official said Mr Xi’s warning over foreign interference was clearly “targeting the US” but played down concerns that Washington would weaken its support. “I really do not worry that someday the United States is going to abandon Taiwan,” the official said.
Ms Tsai responded to Mr Xi’s comments by saying Taiwan would never accept “ one country, two systems”.
“China has to face the fact that the Republic of China [Taiwan] exists,” she said.
Analysts say that with the power to rule China for life, Mr Xi could be considering making the eventual unification of China and Taiwan a hallmark of his presidency with a more nationalist approach.
Zhu Feng, head of Nanjing University’s school of international relations, said the promise not to use military power against “Chinese people” to force unification could be seen as “an important development in Taiwan relations” but it still left an opening for military retaliation against perceived moves towards independence.
Since Ms Tsai’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive party (DPP) won Taiwan’s presidency in 2016, Beijing has hardened its stance, conducting live-fire naval military exercises in the Taiwan Strait last year for the first time since 2015.
In September, China criticised the US for approving a $330 million (€290 million) arms sale to Taiwan, the second such weapons agreement with Taiwan since Donald Trump took office.
Beijing has also ramped up pressure on civilian fronts, encouraging international airlines and hotels into referring to Taiwan as part of China.
China will “leave no room for any form of Taiwanese independence movement”, Mr Xi said. “The Taiwan problem is a Chinese domestic issue ... we cannot allow any foreign interference.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019