In his January 2 speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan, which charts the course for work regarding Taiwan in the new era, Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping not only offered a panoramic review of the torturous 70-year history of relations across the Taiwan Strait, but also presented an all-round preview of the fine prospect of peaceful reunification of the two sides of the Strait in the future.
Xi said, “We do not commit to forsake the use of force, and preserve the option of taking all necessary measures” in the speech. This attracted broad attention at home and abroad, making many wonder whether the Taiwan issue will be solved with force, and whether the two sides of the Strait will again engage in armed conflict.
To answer such questions, one must look at the entirety of Xi’s speech, and take into account major previous policy statements, rather than take things out of context.
Peaceful reunification is the best way toward realizing national reunification
Since the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan was published on January 1, 1979, fundamental changes have taken place in the mainland’s Taiwan policies, turning from “liberating Taiwan” to peaceful reunification. After that, “peaceful reunification, one country, two systems” has been an essential guiding principle in the mainland’s Taiwan policies, which has never wavered a bit over the past four decades. In his January 2 speech, Xi was talking about peaceful reunification almost from the start to the end, and presented a wonderful prospect of peaceful reunification. In the 4,237-character speech, “peace” appeared 39 times, which means “peace” was mentioned in nearly every 100 characters, sufficing to demonstrate the mainland’s resolve and sincerity about pursuing peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. General Secretary Xi specifically said we should “treasure peace like treasuring our own eyes”, illustrating the significance attached to peace.
The mainland’s refusal to forsake the use of force is aimed at containing “Taiwan independence”. For a long time, “Taiwan independence” seekers on the island have been making troubles, attempting to disrupt the process of peaceful development of cross-Strait ties, sabotaging peace and stability in and around Taiwan, creating tremendous risks and challenges for the wellbeing of people on both sides of the Strait. To effectively check the overweening momentum of separatist forces, General Secretary Xi stated, “We do not commit to forsake the use of force, and preserve the option of taking all necessary measures”. At the same time, Xi stressed that refusing to forsake the use of force is “targeted at interference by outsider forces as well as an extremely small number of separatist elements seeking ‘Taiwan independence’ and their separatist activities, absolutely not at compatriots in Taiwan”. This indicates force could be used against separatist forces seeking independence, not Taiwan compatriots. For compatriots in Taiwan, the mainland will continue proceeding from the idea of “both sides of the Straits belongs to one family”, constantly creating conditions and providing an increasingly broader stage for them to study, find jobs, and work in the mainland. Therefore, generally speaking, the basic tune of General Secretary Xi’s speech was “softer where it was meant to be soft, tougher where it was meant to be tough”. The mainland will always treat compatriots in Taiwan with sincerity, and patiently cultivate rapport. Meanwhile, it will be merciless with independence-minded separatist forces, resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and have both the confidence and ability to thwart any separatist moves.
China and the US should jointly manage Taiwan independence
Though China and the US have divergences over Taiwan, they also have consensuses. Preserving peace and stability in and around Taiwan is in both sides’ interests. Therefore, when independence seekers stir up troubles, both China’s mainland and the US should intervene, even without consulting each other in advance, and issue decisive warnings to the “Taiwan independence” forces. When Chen Shui-bian threw out the “one country on each side”, the mainland responded forcefully, the then US president also condemned him as a “trouble maker”, indicating that the two parties’ interests overlaps highly when it comes to opposing “Taiwan independence” and preserving regional peace. Lately, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party authorities in Taiwan have frequently stirred up tensions in cross-Strait relations in the form of “flexible Taiwan independence”. Immediately following General Secretary Xi’s important speech, Tsai Ing-wen jumped out and explicitly rejected the “1992 Consensus” and “one country, two systems”, displaying a tougher stance than those of previous Taiwan leaders Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, which has added tremendous variables to the peaceful development of cross-Strait ties. Taiwan thus has the potential to again become a powder keg and flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific.
Over the past decades, China and the US have accumulated precious experiences in “jointly managing ‘Taiwan independence’”. Today, as the dying embers of “Taiwan independence” flare up, the mainland and the US should learn lessons from their past experiences, and join hands to issue explicit warnings to independence seekers, prevent them from misjudging the situation and disrupting the overall China-US relationship as well as peace and stability in the entire Asia-Pacific.