BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday pledged to achieve peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan, but did not directly mention the use of force after a week of tensions with the China-claimed island, which sparked international concern.
Taiwan responded shortly thereafter by telling Beijing to give up its coercion and reiterating that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
Democratically ruled Taiwan has come under increased military and political pressure from Beijing to accept its sovereignty, but Taipei has pledged to defend its freedom.
Speaking in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi said the Chinese people have a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.
“Taiwan’s independence separatism is the greatest obstacle to the reunification of the motherland and the greatest hidden threat to national rejuvenation,” he said on the anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the last imperial dynasty in 1911.
Peaceful “reunification” would best serve the general interests of the Taiwanese people, but China would protect their sovereignty and unity, he added.
“Nobody should underestimate the steadfast determination, determination and ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Xi. “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled and will definitely be fulfilled.”
His tone was a little softer than he did in July when he mentioned Taiwan in his last major speech, in which he promised to “crush” all attempts at formal independence. In 2019, he directly threatened the use of force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.
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Still, the speech was badly received in Taiwan.
The presidential office said it was a sovereign independent state, not part of the People’s Republic of China, and had clearly rejected China’s offer of “one country, two systems” to rule the island.
“The future of the nation rests in the hands of the Taiwanese people,” the office said.
In a separate statement, Taiwan’s China Policy Council on Mainland Affairs urged Beijing to “abandon its provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction” and return to talks.
China’s air force has entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone for four consecutive days beginning October 1, which involved nearly 150 aircraft, although these missions have now ended. Xi did not mention these flights.
Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, as its official name is. The Republic of China was founded in 1912, and its government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists who founded what is now the People’s Republic.
Taiwan marks October 10 as a national holiday, when the anti-imperial revolution began in China, and President Tsai Ing-wen will deliver a keynote address in Taipei on Sunday.
China is commemorating the revolution by drawing on Republican leader Sun Yat-sen’s calls for patriotism, national rejuvenation, and good governance.
Xi used the speech to underline the need for a “strong force to lead the country, and that strong force is the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no New China and therefore no rejuvenation of the Chinese people,” he said.
Xi has tightened party control in all aspects of life and is almost certain that he will break protocol and have a third term as Communist Party leader late next year if a Congress elects new leadership for the next five years.