Beijing will not rule out the use of force to ensure the “unshakable historic task” of its complete reunification with Taiwan, Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, said on Wednesday, warning that independence for the island would bring “profound disaster.”
“China must and will be united, which is an inevitable requirement for the historical rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era,” President Xi told a gathering at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, to mark the 40th anniversary of a key Beijing policy statement when it sought to improve ties with Taipei.
“China won’t attack Chinese people. We are willing to use the greatest sincerity and expend the greatest hard work to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification,” Mr Xi said.
But he added: “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.”
The threat was aimed at foreign forces seeking to interfere and advocates of Taiwanese independence, the president said, in what has been perceived to be a reference to the United States, Taiwan’s strongest backer. “No one and no party can change the fact that Taiwan is part of China,” he said.
Mr Xi sought to reassure the Taiwanese that “peaceful reunification” would bring them “good and prosperous lives”, even though the majority would prefer to have good relations with China without being ruled by Beijing.
The Chinese leader also urged young Taiwanese to look into the mainland for economic opportunities, in an appeal bound to trouble Taipei, which has long accused Beijing of fueling a brain drain of its best talent.
Responding to Mr Xi’s remarks, Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, said “we are willing to sit down and talk” but only if Taiwan was represented by its own government. She also rejected the concept of “one country, two systems” favoured by China.
Ms Tsai had already preempted President Xi’s address with her own speech on Tuesday, in which she emphasised Taiwan’s commitment to democracy and called on Beijing to seek peaceful means to solve their differences.
Taiwan rejects China’s territorial claims. As a result, Beijing has tried in recent years to undermine Taiwanese sovereignty and has stepped up pressure on the international community to exclude Taipei from global forums.
Meanwhile, Taiwan operates like any other democratic nation with its own government, currency, military and foreign policy and the majority of citizens identify as Taiwanese.
President Tsai, who Beijing has regarded with suspicion since her election in 2016, issued her own strongly-worded messages to China on Tuesday, accusing the Chinese of taking advantage of Taiwan’s openness and of threatening its national security.
“What the two sides of the strait really need is a pragmatic understanding of the fundamental differences in the values we espouse, our lifestyles, and our political systems,” she said