China threat­ens to use mil­i­tary force against Tai­wan and “all nec­es­sary means” to end its in­de­pen­dence

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL - ---Mail On­line

Tai­wan's uni­fi­ca­tion with the main­land is “in­evitable”, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping said Wed­nes­day, warn­ing against any ef­forts to pro­mote the is­land's in­de­pen­dence and say­ing China would not re­nounce the op­tion of us­ing mil­i­tary force to bring it into the fold. China still sees demo­cratic Tai­wan as part of its ter­ri­tory to be re­uni­fied, de­spite the two sides be­ing ruled sep­a­rately since the end of a civil war on the main­land in 1949.

“China must and will be united . . . which is an in­evitable re­quire­ment for the great re­ju­ve­na­tion of the Chi­nese peo­ple in the new era,” Xi said in a speech com­mem­o­rat­ing the 40th an­niver­sary of a mes­sage sent to Tai­wan in 1979, in which Bei­jing called for uni­fi­ca­tion and an end to mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion. “We make no prom­ise to give up the use of mil­i­tary force and re­serve the op­tion of tak­ing all nec­es­sary means” against Tai­wanese sep­a­ratist ac­tiv­i­ties and “out­side forces” that in­ter­fere with re­uni­fi­ca­tion, he said. In his speech, Xi de­scribed uni­fi­ca­tion un­der a “one coun­try, two sys­tems” ap­proach that would “safe­guard the in­ter­ests and well-be­ing of Tai­wanese com­pa­tri­ots”.

Tai­wan con­sid­ers it­self a sov­er­eign state, with its own cur­rency, po­lit­i­cal and ju­di­cial sys­tems, but has never de­clared for­mal in­de­pen­dence from the main­land. Re­la­tions have been strained for the past two years since the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen, who has re­fused to ac­knowl­edge Bei­jing's stance that the is­land is part of “one China”.

On Tues­day, Tsai warned Bei­jing that Tai­wan's peo­ple would never give up the kind of free­doms un­seen on the au­thor­i­tar­ian main­land. Bei­jing “must re­spect the in­sis­tence of 23 mil­lion peo­ple for free­dom and democ­racy” and “must use peace­ful and equal terms to han­dle our dif­fer­ences”, she said.

Though Xi's speech takes a strong stance against Tai­wanese sep­a­ratists and pushes for re­uni­fi­ca­tion, it is aimed mostly at do­mes­tic au­di­ences, an­a­lysts say. “It's rather empty and doesn't have any new points ex­cept that cross-strait uni­fi­ca­tion would not af­fect the in­ter­ests of other coun­tries,” said Fan Shih-ping, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at Na­tional Tai­wan Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, adding that Xi's words may also be in­tended for the US, which views Tai­wan as part of its Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy.

In 2018 the US sent mul­ti­ple ships through the Tai­wan Strait—which China con­sid­ers its ter­ri­tory but the US and oth­ers see as in­ter­na­tional wa­ters open to all—in­fu­ri­at­ing Bei­jing.

Wash­ing­ton also re­mains Taipei's most pow­er­ful un­of­fi­cial ally and its main arms supplier de­spite switch­ing diplo­matic recog­ni­tion to Bei­jing in 1979. Xi's speech is likely to be “very poorly re­ceived” by the US, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a pro­fes­sor at Hong Kong Bap­tist Uni­ver­sity, who stud­ies Chi­nese for­eign pol­icy.

To ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ences in Tai­wan's po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and civil so­ci­ety, China has pro­posed adopt­ing the “one coun­try, two sys­tems” pol­icy, which was im­ple­mented in Hong Kong af­ter the British handed the city back to China in 1997.

But some say the ero­sion of civil lib­er­ties in Hong Kong sets a neg­a­tive prece­dent for Tai­wan. "They (China) are gob­bling up Hong Kong, not just po­lit­i­cally but cul­tur­ally and eco­nom­i­cally too,” Clau­dia Mo, a pro-democ­racy Hong Kong law­maker, told AFP. “It's so ob­vi­ous that they're try­ing to as­sim­i­late Hong Kong into wider main­land China in ev­ery way. How would any Tai­wanese think that's go­ing to work for them?” Oth­ers be­lieved Tai­wanese could slowly come on board. “Peo­ple's heart won't change in one day, but I think 'one coun­try, two sys­tems' is a way to do it. The uni­fi­ca­tion might take one, two, or even three more gen­er­a­tions to achieve,” said a 55-year-old con­struc­tion worker in Hong Kong who gave his sur­name as Lam.

Last Oc­to­ber, tens of thou­sands of Tai­wan in­de­pen­dence cam­paign­ers took to the streets in the first large-scale protest, call­ing for an out­right in­de­pen­dence vote since the is­land first be­came a democ­racy more than 20 years ago.

But some in Tai­wan say wors­en­ing re­la­tions with Bei­jing have harmed busi­ness, as cuts to pen­sions and a re­duc­tion in pub­lic hol­i­days com­pound frus­tra­tions over a stag­nant econ­omy where salaries have not kept up with the rise in cost of liv­ing. Last year, Tai­wan's rul­ing party suf­fered a mas­sive de­feat in mid-term polls, caus­ing Tsai to re­sign as leader of the rul­ing Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party, while the main op­po­si­tion Kuom­intang, which over­saw an un­prece­dented thaw with Bei­jing be­fore Tsai took of­fice in 2016, made gains.

Bei­jing has adopted a multi-pronged ap­proach to di­min­ish Tai­wan's pres­ence on the in­ter­na­tional stage in re­cent years, in­clud­ing block­ing it from global fo­rums and poach­ing its dwin­dling num­ber of of­fi­cial diplo­matic al­lies.

Tai­wan's Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen has called on Bei­jing to re­spect “free­dom and democ­racy”.

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