China and Taiwan rung in 2019 with attention-grabbing statements from both sides of the strait.
On Wednesday, President Xi made a speech marking the 40th anniversary since China officially declared its policy towards settling cross-strait disputes. A bit of a mixed signal, his speech urged Taiwan to accept "peaceful reunification" and warned that China "make[s] no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain[s] the option of taking all necessary measures," while stating that "Chinese don't fight Chinese." Reiterating the Chinese Communist Party line, Xi also promised Taiwanese autonomy through the one-country-two-systems framework, which assures that Taiwan is granted legal, religious, and private property freedoms.
Xi's speech came after Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen, gave a speech on January 1st calling on China to "face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan)." She added, "I must emphasize, the results of the past election absolutely do not represent that the will of the people at the grass-roots level seeks to give up our sovereignty."
Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Xi's speech demonstrated "ignorance of the fact that Taiwan is a globally recognized democracy, that Taiwan's people refuse to accept the 'one country, two systems' approach and have the right to determine their own future."
Tsai, of the largely pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, rose to power in 2016 as one of the first Taiwanese leaders to openly support Taiwanese independence and change the rhetoric surrounding cross-strait relations. However, Tsai suffered a crushing political defeat in local elections this past November to the Kuomintang (KMT), which has a friendlier approach towards Beijing. The next round of Taiwanese political leadership is expected to favor closer ties with Beijing.
The message coming from Beijing, however, remains unchanged. "My initial impression is that [Xi's] speech is a reaffirmation of current policy," Bonnie Glaser, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. "It is notable that there is no mention of a timetable or deadline for reunification, it is just a goal."
Prepared by China-US Focus editorial teams in Hong Kong and New York, this weekly newsletter offers you snap shots of latest trends and developments emerging from China every week, while adding a dose of historical perspective.