China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control but will strive to achieve peaceful “reunification” with the self-ruled island that has a bright future under any future Chinese rule, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday.
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory. Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016.
Tsai rejected Xi’s call and instead urged China to embrace democracy.
Xi has set great personal store in resolving what the Communist Party calls the “Taiwan issue”, holding a landmark meeting with then Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore in late 2015, just before Tsai was elected.
Xi spoke at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 40th anniversary of a landmark Taiwan policy statement.
He said “reunification” must come under a one-China principle that accepts Taiwan as part of China, anathema to supporters of Taiwan independence, adding that the “one country, two systems” model of autonomy, with which China governs Hong Kong, was the best way for Taiwan.
China translates the word “tong yi” as “reunification”, but it can also be translated as “unification”, a term in English preferred by supporters of Taiwan independence who point out the Communist government has never ruled Taiwan and so it cannot be “reunified”.
The vast majority of Taiwan’s people are clearly aware that Taiwan independence would lead to a “grave disaster”, Xi told an audience that included Taiwan business people and senior party officials.
“Chinese people don’t attack other Chinese people. We are willing to use the greatest sincerity and expend the greatest hard work to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification,” Xi said.
“We do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures” to achieve this goal and prevent Taiwan independence, he said.
This, though, was aimed at foreign forces who sought to interfere and the tiny minority of Taiwan independence forces and their activities, Xi said without elaborating in what was likely a reference to the United States, Taiwan’s strongest backer.
Speaking to reporters, Tsai said Taiwan would never accept “one country, two systems” and was proud of its democratic way of life.
“The vast majority in Taiwan resolutely oppose ‘one country, two systems’, This is the ‘Taiwan consensus’,” she said.
“We call on China to bravely step forward for democracy, for only by doing so can it truly understand the people of Taiwan’s thinking and insistence.”
Xi reiterated that China was willing to talk with any party in Taiwan to push the political process - stalled by China since Tsai took office - as long as they accept the “one China” principle.
Underscoring China’s nervousness about US support in particular for Taiwan, US President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which reaffirms the US commitment to Taiwan, including arms sales.