Pacific News Minute: New Year Sees Rhetoric Ramp Up on Taiwan

Jan 8, 2019

Credit DrRandomFactor / Wikimedia Commons

Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with China. In response, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that was “impossible.”

On New Year’s Day, President Tsai declared, “I would like to call on China to face squarely the reality of the existence of the Republic of China on Taiwan.” 

Note the suggestion there that the “Republic of China” is separate from China itself. Beijing insists that there is only one China, and Taiwan just a rogue province.

In a major speech the next day, President Xi said Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with the mainland. It could keep its freedoms under the one-country-two-systems formula, but the inevitable unification could not wait another generation and China would not rule out the use of force if necessary. What’s new in there is the emphasis on one-country-two-systems, the same framework applied to Hong Kong after its return to China in 1997.

Taiwan watches Hong Kong closely and the belief that China is steadily limiting freedoms there is reflected in President Tsai’s remarks to foreign reporters over the weekend. She flatly rejected one-country-two-systems and used terms like “impossible” and “unacceptable” to describe Xi’s speech. That’s much more direct language than she’s used in the past.

One other part of President Xi’s speech was directed at the United States: he said relations with Taiwan are part of China’s domestic politics and foreign interference is intolerable. On New Year’s Eve, President Trump signed a new law that calls for closer ties between the U.S. and Taiwan and for regular arms sales.