China calls for Taiwanese Reunification
Dr Gunjan Singh

January 1 marked the 40th anniversary of ‘message to compatriots in Taiwan’ which was issued by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on January 1, 1979. This message conveyed some of the important policies and principles which China adheres to towards its peaceful reunification.1 By this, China had asserted that Taiwan was a part of China’s internal affair and also laid out a ‘fundamental policy of striving for peaceful reunification’.2

During his speech on January 2 at the Great Hall of the People, marking the 40th anniversary, the Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the same. Xi said that, “Chinese people across the Taiwan Straits as well as at home and abroad to work together for the Chinese nation's greater good and go with the tide of history, to jointly push forward the peaceful development of the cross-Strait relations and advance the process toward the peaceful reunification of China”.3 Xi also asserted that Taiwan was an integral core issue and that peaceful reunification is the only way to go. He also said that, “The Taiwan question originated from national weakness and disorder, and will definitely end with national rejuvenation”.4 China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province and there has been no formal peace treaty signed between them to mark the end of unfriendly relations.5 Xi wants to bring Taiwan back into China’s fold by the year 2050.6

Xi also argued that the reunification will no way be harmful for the overall international community as the interests of other countries will also be kept in mind. He also argued that a possible reunification will be beneficial for the Asia Pacific region as well as for global and regional development.7

As a response to the speech, the Taiwan President Tsai argued that there was a need for Beijing to “respect the insistence of 23 million people on freedom and democracy, and must use peaceful, on parity, means to handle our differences”.8 The Taiwanese President has put forth the idea of four ‘musts’ for better relations across the Taiwan Strait. These include, “China must recognize the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan), respect the values of democracy and freedom Taiwan's 23 million people hold dear, resolve cross-Taiwan Strait differences in a peaceful and equitable manner, and sit down with the Government of Taiwan or an institution with a mandate from the Government”.9

Since Tsai who belongs to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) became the President of Taiwan, Xi has adopted a very forceful approach. China has consistently worked towards diminishing the diplomatic relations of Taiwan. Beijing has also stopped any major exchanges between the two sides. The speech on January 2 should also be viewed in similar light. In the last few years Beijing has become highly aggressive in its stance towards Taiwan as the 19th Party Congress speech also underscored. However, there are also reports which suggest that the chances of a ‘cyber warfare’ is higher as compared to any traditional military action even though Beijing asserts that it is open to the idea of military action10.

Taiwan under Tsai as always argued for maintaining the existing status quo as the ‘one country, two systems’ approach does not appeal to Taiwanese people. Taiwan has followed a very independent approach and development direction, both economic and political in the last seven decades. Thus the idea that a democratic system can be successfully incorporated under the Communist system seems far-fetched to the 23 million people on Taiwan. The Taiwanese people have also been disappointed with the way the ‘one country, two systems’ has panned out in Hong Kong. Beijing has been dominating and curtailing media freedom and liberties there. The increase in the control on media freedom and hard authoritarianism under Xi will also affect the Taiwanese approach towards the idea of ‘one country, two systems’.

China has also sent out signal to the United States that Beijing is not ‘happy’ with Washington’s constant involvement with the Taiwan issue. During the speech Xi made it very clear that Beijing will not accept any kind of foreign involvement in the Taiwan issue.11 Beijing has always been hostile towards the sale of arms and other military technologies to Taiwan by the United States.

Taiwan and China have been entangled in this situation and a final solution seems far-fetched. Today they are one of the most integrated economies of the world and one cannot ignore that it was Taiwanese investment which helped China pave the path of economic growth. In addition, one major challenge for Taiwan will be to look for alternatives to the Chinese market and investments. After years of economic relationship, the two sides are deeply integrated and thus have the capacity to affect each other adversely.

Under Xi China has been more unrelenting in its attitude towards Taiwan. If China continues to be increasingly aggressive, it may affect the delicate balance of ‘politics and economics’ which the Taiwan Strait has witnessed in the last four decades. Xi wants to achieve his dream of ‘national rejuvenation’ and the unification of Taiwan is an integral part of this discourse. Tang Yonghong, of Xiamen University’s Taiwan Research Institute argues that if China views Taiwan as a major hurdle to the national rejuvenation “it will not hesitate to remove that block”.12 However, it is still not clear how this will be achieved. Though, China has never shied away from acknowledging that it will use its military force; only time will tell if it is feasible.

End Notes
  1. “Xi to attend gathering marking 40th anniversary of 'Message to Compatriots in Taiwan'” January 2, 2019 at https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d514f324d7a4e31457a6333566d54/share_p.html, accessed January 3, 2019
  2. “Xi offers practical means to inevitable reunification: China Daily editorial” January 2, 2019 at http://africa.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201901/02/WS5c2cad3aa310d9121405321a.html, accessed January 3, 2019.
  3. “Highlights of Xi's speech at Taiwan message anniversary event” January 2, 2019 at http://www.chinadail.y.com.cn/a/201901/02/WS5c2c1ad2a310d91214052069.html, accessed January 3, 2019.
  4. “Highlights of Xi's speech at gathering marking 40th anniversary of Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” January 2, 2019 at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-01/02/c_137715300.htm, accessed January 3, 2019.
  5. “China to kick off year of sensitive anniversaries with major speech on Taiwan” December 30, 2018 at https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/31/china-to-kick-off-year-of-sensitive-anniversaries-with-major-speech-on-taiwan.html, accessed January 3, 2019.
  6. “Taiwan will be China’s by 2050, threatens Xi” January 3, 2019 at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/taiwan-will-be-china-s-by-2050-threatens-xi-zqgd59mwm, accessed January 3, 2019.
  7. “Taiwan question allows no interference from outside: Xi” January 2, 2019 at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-01/02/c_137714303.htm, accessed January 3, 2019.
  8. “Xi Jinping says Taiwan 'must and will be' reunited with China” January 2, 2019 at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-46733174, accessed January 3, 2019.
  9. “Cross-strait ties depend on 'Four Musts' from China: president” January 1, 2019 at http://focustaiwan.tw/news/aipl/201901010005.aspx, accessed January 3, 2019.
  10. “Xi Jinping says Taiwan 'must and will be' reunited with China” January 2, 2019 at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-46733174, accessed January 3, 2019.
  11. “Xi offers promises and threats as he calls China’s unification with Taiwan inevitable” January 2, 2019 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/xi-offers-promises-and-threats-as-he-calls-chinas-unification-with-taiwan-inevitable/2019/01/02/85ae5ece-0e82-11e9-92b8-6dd99e2d80e1_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5ea9aaeafb7e, accessed January 3, 2019.
  12. “Xi offers promises and threats as he calls China’s unification with Taiwan inevitable” January 2, 2019 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/xi-offers-promises-and-threats-as-he-calls-chinas-unification-with-taiwan-inevitable/2019/01/02/85ae5ece-0e82-11e9-92b8-6dd99e2d80e1_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5ea9aaeafb7e, accessed January 3, 2019.

Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1X6ejraWoqE

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