Taiwan president defiant after China calls for reunification

Taiwan president defiant after China calls for reunification

China seeks the "peaceful unification" of Taiwan but will not rule out the threat of military action, President Xi Jinping said Wednesday as he described the annexation of the self-ruling USA ally as an enduring ambition and an inevitable outcome of China's rise.

"We will create a broad space for peaceful reunification, but will leave no room for any separatist activities", Xi vowed, adding that Beijing would not promise to renounce the option of using military force against Taiwan.

Xi was speaking on the anniversary of the "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan" on January 1, 1979, when China declared an end to what had been routine artillery bombardment of Taiwan-controlled offshore islands and offered to open up communication between the two sides. As NPR's Beijing Correspondent Rob Schmitz has reported previously, Taiwan split from China in 1949 when the USA -supported Chinese nationalist leadership fled after losing a civil war to communist forces.

Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own currency, political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland.

In this December 1, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and China's President Xi Jinping, left, attend their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Though Xi insisted that "it's a legal fact that both sides of the Strait belong to one China, and can not be changed by anyone or any force", his speech was to some degree conciliatory, calling for discussion and increased economic cooperation. Over the past year, Beijing has ramped up efforts to isolate Taiwan, through pressuring global companies and airlines to list the territory as part of mainland China.

In Taiwan's November elections, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen's party lost.

Xi said in a speech devoted to Taiwan on Wednesday that no one or no party can stop the trend toward unification, and that independence for the self-governing island is a dead end.

All told, the speech amounted to a more balanced tack at a juncture when Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections, and mainland officials - and Taiwanese politicians - see an opportunity to press their case.

Xi promised Taiwan that under Chinese rule it could have the same "one country, two systems" model that Hong Kong has. The majority of Taiwan's public opinion resolutely opposes the "one country, two systems", she added. He did mention the historical completion of the "Three Links" between Taiwan and China and expressed a wish that the outlying ROC islands of Kinmen and Matsu be connected by bridge to China - an idea touted in the past by Kinmen politicians. "Since Hong Kong was returned to China, its freedom and democracy have faced a lot of limitations".

Washington also remains Taipei's most powerful unofficial ally and its main arms supplier despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.

MOFA urged the worldwide community to maintain its support for Taiwan and help it to continue to serve as a beacon in the Asia-Pacific region.

It was a notion that Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen immediately rejected Wednesday amid concern that Mr. Xi is directing what Lai I-chung, who chairs the International Cooperation Council of Taiwan think tank, called a "major policy change".

In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly assertive over its claims and what it says is a key question of national sovereignty.

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