In an address marking the centenary of the Communist Party in Beijing on Thursday, he said “resolving the Taiwan question and realising China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakeable commitment” of the party.
“It is also a shared aspiration of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation,” Xi said.
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Beijing regards the democratic island of Taiwan as its territory and has not renounced the use of force to bring it under mainland control. But Xi on Thursday also called for “peaceful reunification” based on the one-China principle and the “1992 consensus” – an understanding that there is only “one China” but each side has its own interpretation of the meaning.
Xi called on all Chinese people, including “compatriots” across the Taiwan Strait, to unite and “take resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt towards ‘Taiwan independence’, and work together to create a bright future for national rejuvenation”.
“No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, drawing loud applause from the audience.
Taiwan’s policymaking Mainland Affairs Council responded by saying there was no way the island would agree to cross-strait unification under the totalitarian rule of the Communist Party.
“Cross-strait relations should be based on mutual respect and conciliatory understanding. The 23 million people of Taiwan have long rejected the [party’s] unilateral adoption of the one-China principle and 1992 consensus,” it said, adding that Taiwan would do its best to safeguard its sovereignty and freedom.
It called on Beijing to respect public opinion in Taiwan and stop its military intimidation of the island. Beijing has stepped up pressure on Taiwan in recent years, including by staging military drills nearby. “Only by taking note of our peace, parity, democracy and dialogue initiatives will the two sides be able to have amicable interactions and sustainable development,” it said.
Analysts said that while Xi’s comments reiterated the party’s stand, his call for a peaceful process could have been aimed at rising nationalist pressure on the mainland for military action.
“He repeated his warning that no one should underestimate the mainland determination to crush any attempt towards ‘Taiwan independence’ and to bring about unification of the two sides, but it’s worth noting that he reiterated cross-strait union by peaceful means,” said Stephen Tan, president of the Cross-Strait Policy Association, a think tank in Taipei. “That ‘peaceful means’ appears to be a response to the growing voices [in Beijing] calling for military reunification in the past year.”
Wang Kung-yi, head of the Taiwan International Strategic Study Society, another think tank, said Xi’s vow to defend China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was a warning to Washington – which has moved closer to Taipei, angering Beijing – not to interfere.
He also noted the absence of any reference to using a “one country, two systems” model for cross-strait unification. “This could be a dangerous signal to the government of President Tsai Ing-wen as it might mean that Xi is now looking at a ‘one country, one system’ model,” Wang said.
Xi in 2019 proposed a “one country, two systems” framework – based on the Hong Kong and Macau models – for cross-strait unification. But the proposal was rejected by Tsai, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, who said it would mean the island would end up losing its freedom and democracy, like Hong Kong.
Zhu Songling, a professor at the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Beijing Union University, said Xi had sent “a very clear warning to the world – that … China will never compromise on the Taiwan issue”.
Xi’s speech also aimed to reflect consistency and continuity, according to Ji Ye, a cross-strait relations expert at Xiamen University. “It was also a declaration and promise of what the party will do in the next 100 years,” he said. “The applause [after Xi talked about defending national sovereignty] truly reflects the mainstream opinion on the mainland and their desire and expectation for reunification.”
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang
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