Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested that mainland China and Taiwan enter into “in-depth democratic consultations” and work toward unification, in the clearest sign yet that he wants to settle the 70-year dispute during his tenure.
“China must and will be united, which is an inevitable requirement for the historical rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era,” Xi told a gathering in Beijing to mark the 40th anniversary of a landmark Beijing overture to Taipei after the US and China established relations. The two sides have been ruled separately since Chiang Kai-shek moved his Nationalist government across the Taiwan Strait during the Chinese civil war.
Xi’s speech was peppered with references to familiar domestic themes and promises to leave the self-governing island’s political system intact. He urged Taiwan to “share the glory of national rejuvenation,” a reference to his nationalist "Chinese Dream” slogan.
“The difference in systems is not an obstacle to reunification or an excuse for separation,” Xi said.
He suggested that “political parties and people from all walks of life on both sides of the strait elect representatives” to engage in talks on the future of their relationship, saying an agreement that both sides belong to “one China” must be upheld in negotiations. He cited the “one country, two systems” arrangement that preserve Hong Kong’s liberal political and economic system after its return from the British as the intended model.
Xi also sent a warning to advocates of Taiwan’s independence, who include supporters of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. “It’s a legal fact that both sides of the strait belong to one China, and cannot be changed by anyone or any force,” Xi said. While the president said “Chinese don’t beat Chinese,” he noted that the mainland was “not committed to renouncing the use of force.”
Taiwan’s benchmark Taiex index extended declines, falling as much as 1.6 percent as of 12:05 p.m., amid a broader slide across the region driven by worsening manufacturing data in China and Taiwan as well as continued trade jitters.
“I don’t think the speech was negative,” said David Lu, vice president of the equity department at Taishin International Bank in Taipei. “Tsai Ing-wen took a hard stance and Xi Jinping was quite soft, for example saying Chinese won’t hit Chinese and that the two sides should build a mechanism for economic exchanges.”
Xi’s speech comes a day after Tsai -- who has refused to accept the “one China” framework -- used her New Year’s address to warn against continued threats from China. Her remarks signaled that she would continue to take a firm line toward Beijing despite her recent election losses to Taiwan’s more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, Chiang’s former party.
This October also marks the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party’s takeover of China, an occasion that Xi has been using to solidify his stewardship after repealing presidential term limits last year. The anniversaries come amid increased tensions with the U.S., whose moves to support Taiwan have drawn China’s ire.
On Jan. 1, 1979, China stopped decades of regular artillery bombardment of Taiwan-controlled islands off the mainland. In a historic overture, it issued a public letter to the Taiwanese known as the “message to compatriots in Taiwan,” calling for an end to military confrontation across the Taiwan Strait and saying it would open communication between the two sides.