China pledges peaceful growth of Taiwan ties, but opposes foreign interference

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a news conference following the closing session of NPC in Beijing

By Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) -Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged on Saturday to advance peaceful growth in relations with Taiwan and "reunification", and said his government firmly opposes any separatist activities or foreign interference, drawing a firm rebuke from Taipei.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has increased military activity near the island over the past two years, responding to what it calls "collusion" between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan's main international backer and arms supplier.

Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting of China's parliament, Li said Beijing stands by the "one China" principle, which states Taiwan is part of China.

"We will advance the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait and the reunification of China," he said. "We firmly oppose any separatist activities seeking 'Taiwan independence' and firmly oppose foreign interference."

"All of us, Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, should come together to advance the great and glorious cause of China's rejuvenation."

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council responded by saying China should focus more on addressing the real concerns of its people and promoting democracy rather than "undermining international rules and order".

"Taiwanese public opinion firmly opposes the political framework, military intimidation and diplomatic suppression imposed by China," it said. "Democratic Taiwan is a force for regional peace and stability."

Most Taiwanese people have shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.

Liu Guoshen, an expert on Taiwan as China's Xiamen University, said Li's wording was largely similar to previous years.

"No matter what games the United States or the Democratic Progressive Party play, they won't affect the resolve of the Chinese government on the line they have set for work on Taiwan," Liu added, referring to Taiwan's ruling party.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected by a landslide in 2020 on a promise of defending the island's democracy and standing up to China.

China says Tsai wishes to push for Taiwan's formal independence, a red line for the Chinese government, which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under Beijing's control, and has refused Tsai's offers of talks.

Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Jane Wardell and William Mallard)