(CNSNews.com) – Taiwan’s president responded coolly Wednesday to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s declaration that the island democracy “must and will be” united with communist-ruled China – by force if necessary – saying Xi’s stance made clear that Taiwan’s “misgivings” about Beijing are well-founded.
President Tsai Ing-Wen called an impromptu press conference hours after Xi in a major speech called for “peaceful” unification based on the “one China principle,” said the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was willing to talk to any political party in Taiwan based on that principle, but also stressed that Beijing “will not renounce the use of force or give up the option to use all necessary measures” against attempts to assert full independence.
Many observers view Taiwan, a thriving constitutional republic of 23 million people, as already fully independent, although the United Nations system, in deference to China’s demands, does not, and most of the world’s governments have also fallen into line.
The U.S. position is nuanced: President Carter in 1979 cut ties with Taipei and recognized Beijing, but Congress the same year passed the Taiwan Relations Act, committing the U.S. to protect the island from unprovoked aggression and to provide it with military aid.
In the part of his speech where Xi did not rule out the use of force, he pointedly said that would target only the small number of Taiwanese separatists as well as “the interference of external forces” – a likely reference to the United States.
The PRC in 2005 passed an “anti-secession” law authorizing war if the island formally declares statehood.
The dispute originates from a civil war in 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists drove out Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists (KMT), who moved their government to the island of Formosa.
In his speech in the Great Hall of the People, Xi said that over the 70 years since then the principles of reunification under a “one country, two systems” model had been established.
No one could alter the historical and legal reality that Taiwan is part of China, he said.
Xi also invoked the so-called “1992 consensus” – a verbal agreement between Beijing and a previous KMT government in Taipei, conceding that the two sides could interpret the “one China” notion in different ways.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) views the “1992 consensus” as a slippery slope towards reunification on Beijing’s terms, and Tsai reiterated Wednesday that she has never accepted it.
“One country, two systems” is the model under which the former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with pledges of limited autonomy under a capitalist system for at least 50 years. In reality many freedoms have been eroded, and activists in Hong Kong demonstrated again on New Year’s Day to protest PRC policies in the territory.
Tsai said Wednesday her country “will never accept the ‘one China, two systems’ formula, and the vast majority of Taiwan’s people are firmly opposed to the approach designed by Beijing.”
She said Xi’s speech proved that “Taiwan’s misgivings are correct.”
Xi said the past 70 years have seen more and more countries come to understand and support the PRC’s stance on reunification.
But Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said China appeared ignorant of the fact Taiwan is a globally-recognized democracy whose people have the right to determine their own future.
“We look forward to working with the international community to jointly safeguard our shared common values and establish an international order based on freedom, democracy and respect for human rights,” it said in a statement.
‘Natural and unstoppable’
In her own New Year address a day before Xi’s, Tsai had called on the PRC to resolve its differences with Taiwan peacefully and on equal terms, reiterating the island’s sovereignty and the importance Taiwanese people ascribe to autonomy.
The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said in an editorial most Taiwanese were tiring of the notion of “independence,” which had become a costly and “extreme game” catering only to politicians.
It called reunification “a natural and unstoppable result of the Chinese nation's great rejuvenation,” and predicted that mainstream politics in Taiwan would very soon abandon the independence idea.
Jonathan Lee, vice president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), a Washington-based Taiwanese-American lobby, said late Wednesday most pundits would agree the last 40 years of foreign policy regarding the PRC has been a failure.
“The PRC has only become emboldened, not only did he not rule out the option of force, but the military leadership has continued to make provocative statements such as sinking U.S. carriers,” he said.
“As Americans, FAPA would like to see U.S. policymakers, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re on, unequivocally support Taiwan,” Lee said, describing Taiwan as a “staunch ally of the U.S. and a country that shares similar values of democracy and freedom.”
“Concrete steps should be made by strengthening economic and military ties while promoting high level exchanges as supported by the recently passed Taiwan Travel Act,” he added. President Trump signed the legislation, which allows for high-level visits between U.S. and Taiwanese officials, last March.
Another measure, signed into law by Trump on December 31, contained a reiteration of U.S. policy on Taiwan, including support for weapons sales and a commitment “to support peaceful resolution acceptable to both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”