Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be achieved,” as tensions over the island continue to rise.
Xi said unity should be achieved peacefully, but cautioned that the Chinese people have a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.
In response, Taiwan said that only its people decide its future.
Taiwan considers itself a sovereign country, while China considers it a breakaway province.
Beijing has not ruled out the possibility of using force to achieve unity.
Xi’s remarks come after China sent an unprecedented number of military aircraft to Taiwan’s air defense zone in the past few days. Some analysts say the flights could be seen as a warning to Taiwan’s president ahead of the island’s National Day on Sunday.
Taiwan’s defense minister said tensions with China were at their worst in 40 years.
But Xi’s comments on Saturday were more conciliatory than his comment on Taiwan in July, when he vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal Taiwan independence.
Speaking on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the revolution, which toppled China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911, Xi said that unification through the “peaceful way is more in line with the general interest of the Chinese nation, including the compatriots of Taiwan.”
But he added, “No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s firm determination, will and strong ability to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
He said, “The historic mission of the complete reunification of the motherland must and certainly will be accomplished.”
Xi said he wanted to see the union take place under the “one country, two systems” principle, similar to what happened with Hong Kong, which is part of China but enjoys a high degree of autonomy.
But Taiwan’s presidential office said public opinion is very clear in rejecting the “one country, two systems” principle. In a separate statement, the Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council called on China to abandon its “provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction.”
Shortly before Xi spoke in Beijing, Taiwanese Prime Minister Su Tsingchang accused China of “flexing its muscles” and stoking tensions.
Despite the recent escalating tensions, relations between China and Taiwan have not deteriorated to the levels reached in 1996, when China tried to disrupt the presidential elections in Taiwan, through missile tests, and the United States sent aircraft carriers to the region to discourage it.
While a number of Western countries have expressed concern about China’s display of military force, US President Joe Biden said Xi has agreed to abide by the “Taiwan Agreement.”
Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s longstanding “one China” policy, under which it recognizes China rather than Taiwan.
However, this agreement also allows Washington to maintain a “solid informal” relationship with Taiwan. The United States sells arms to Taiwan as part of the Washington-Taipei Relations Act, which states that the United States must help Taiwan defend itself.
In an interview with the BBC last week, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US would “stand up and speak out” about any actions that “undermine peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait.
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