It was distinctly a double-edged caveat that Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed to Taiwan on the 40th anniversary of the critical cross-strait policy statement.
Wednesday’s message at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People was intrinsically an echo of the official stand that Taiwan’s unification with China is inevitable. This time, however, it has been couched with the stern warning that Beijing reserved the right to use military force to bring Taiwan into the fold. He has, in other words, reserved the right to precipitate matters if unification with the mainland does not materialise.
“Reunification is the historical trend and it is the right path,” Xi said. “Taiwan’s independence is a reversal of history and a dead-end road.” That assertion of authority coupled with the debunking of independence by an omnipotent Head of State is bound to be greeted with a fair measure of trepidation by Taiwan and her people. Aside from the Taiwanese government, President Xi has addressed his appeal directly to the populace — “All people in Taiwan must clearly recognize that Taiwan’s independence would only bring profound disaster to Taiwan,” he said.
Taiwan, which has never been under the Chinese Communist Party’s control, is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory. It is pretty obvious that Xi has ramped up pressure on the democratically-governed island ever since Tsai Ing-wen, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, became President in 2016.
Xi’s appeal for unification and the threat to use force, should the necessity arise, flies in the face of the certitudes of democracy, as does Beijing’s strategy in the case of Hong Kong. Taiwan introduced democracy in the 1990s and the island nation is often held up as an example of democratic reforms. “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means,” Xi said, adding that the issue was an internal one and that China would permit “no external interference”.
Though China’s lifetime President was addressing a captive domestic audience at the Great Hall, the message has been directed at the comity of nations no less. “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means,” Xi said. “The issue is an internal one and China will permit no external interference. We are willing to create broad space for peaceful reunification, but will leave no room for any form of separatist activities.”
Though he has not spelt out the connotation of “broad space”, the subtext of his presentation was plain enough. President Xi may be acutely aware that the essay towards reunification, if at all, could be less than peaceful, with a broad hint that it might even stoke separatist jingoism. There is little doubt that his warning is explicitly against the second, clothed with the robust message to abjure independence.