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China’s Xi Renews Appeal to Taiwan Amid Pressure Campaign

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/9/2021 Bloomberg News
Key Speakers At 76th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly © Bloomberg Key Speakers At 76th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping said unification with Taiwan “will and must be achieved,” renewing his pledge just days after sending a record number of warplanes near the island as part of a years-long pressure campaign. 

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Xi made the remarks on Saturday as part of a televised speech marking the 1911 uprising that toppled the last Qing emperor and led to the founding of the Republic of China. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is scheduled to deliver an address on Taiwan’s National Day on Sunday, giving her a chance to make a direct response.

The Chinese president reaffirmed that peaceful means to unify with the democratically-run island “best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole,” but he also sent stark warnings against any efforts to seek independence as well as foreign interference. 

“Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end,” Xi said. “They will be disdained by the people and condemned by history.”

The remarks represents Xi’s most high-profile comments on the issue since July 1, when he declared taking control of Taiwan as the Communist Party’s “historic mission” and “unshakable commitment.”

In response to Xi’s remarks, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement that Beijing’s rigid Taiwan policy has completely ignored the doubts and opposition of Taiwanese people and called on Beijing authorities to abandon provocative moves.

While the governments in both Beijing and Taipei trace their origins to the 1911 revolution, the Communist Party never captured Taiwan in a subsequent civil war and the Republic of China government lived on there. Mainland China still considers the island part of its territory and has asserted the right to take it by force, although Tsai argues she leads a sovereign nation.

Video: China's Xi vows 'reunification' with Taiwan (Reuters)

The anniversary follows a particularly tense week in the Taiwan Strait, with China sending scores of military planes into the island’s air-defense-identification zone while the U.S. and its allies held military exercises in nearby waters. On Friday, Beijing urged Washington to abide by its agreement to keep troops out of Taiwan after an American defense official confirmed that some U.S. military advisers had been deployed there. 

More on China-Taiwan tensions: 
U.S. Confirmation of Troops in Taiwan Tests China’s Bottom LineChina Adds to Taiwan Flybys With Another 39 Jets on SaturdayWhy Taiwan Is the Biggest Risk for a U.S.-China Clash: QuickTakeXi Warns China’s Foes Will Break Against ‘Steel Great Wall’

Xi’s earlier efforts to appeal to Taiwan, where government surveys showed fewer than 10% of its 23.5 million residents favor unification, have backfired. His January 2019 call for a “one country, two systems” union similar to Hong Kong’s was even rejected by Taiwan’s China-friendly opposition, and support fell further after the city’s Beijing-appointed government crushed mass pro-democracy protests. 

Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang last month elected moderate Eric Chu as its leader, providing a potential opening for Xi to resume communication with the island. Xi urged cooperation on “national reunification” in a congratulatory letter to Chu, prompting the former New Taipei City mayor to pledge to affirm his opposition to Taiwan’s independence and find “common ground.” 

Xi’s speech on Saturday also invoked revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen’s belief that “unification is the hope of all Chinese nationals,” and failing would result in “suffering.” His predecessor, Hu Jintao, used the line on the revolution’s centennial a decade ago when the two sides enjoyed much more cordial ties. 

Quoting Sun, who founded the Kuomintang, may be an effort to reach out to the party’s modern successors in Taiwan, said Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese politics at Oxford University. 

“In recent months, Beijing has used almost exclusively threatening language toward Taiwan on the question of reunification,” Mitter said. “This speech may be an attempt to try and suggest that there is a peaceful route.” 

(Updates with Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council response in sixth paragraph)

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