© Reuters. Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting to mark the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on October 9, 2021. REUTERS / Carlos García Rawlins
By Carlos García and Yew Lun Tian
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday vowed to achieve “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and did not directly mention the use of force after a week of tensions with the Chinese-claimed island that sparked international concern.
Taiwan responded shortly after by asking Beijing to abandon its coercion, reiterating that only the people of Taiwan could decide their future.
Democratically governed Taiwan has come under increased military and political pressure from Beijing to accept its sovereignty, but Taipei has pledged to defend its freedom.
Speaking at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Xi said that the Chinese people have a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.
“Taiwan’s independence separatism is the greatest obstacle to achieving the reunification of the homeland and the gravest hidden danger to national rejuvenation,” he said on the anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the last imperial dynasty in 1911.
Peaceful “reunification” better serves the general interests of the Taiwanese people, but China will protect their sovereignty and unity, he added.
“No one should underestimate the steadfast determination, strong will and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said. “The historic task of the complete reunification of the homeland must be fulfilled, and it will definitely be fulfilled.”
He took a slightly softer tone than in July, his last major speech mentioning Taiwan, in which he vowed to “crush” any attempts at formal independence. In 2019, he directly threatened to use force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.
Still, the speech was poorly received in Taiwan.
The presidential office said it was an independent sovereign country, not part of the People’s Republic of China, and had clearly rejected China’s offer of “one country, two systems” to rule the island.
“The future of the nation is in the hands of the people of Taiwan,” the bureau said.
In a separate statement, the Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council for Policymaking in China called on Beijing to “abandon its provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction” and return to the talks.
China’s air force mounted four consecutive days of sorties into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone since October 1, involving about 150 aircraft, although those missions have now ended. Xi did not mention those flights.
Taiwan is officially called the Republic of China, the name of the country established in 1912 after the fall of the Qing dynasty.
That government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists, who established the current People’s Republic.
Taiwan marks October 10, the date when China’s anti-imperial revolution began, as its national day, and President Tsai Ing-wen will give a keynote address in Taipei on Sunday.
Tsai, speaking at a pre-national day reception at an air base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, on Saturday night, thanked the military for protecting Taiwan, though he did not mention the tensions with China.
“We will continue to work hard to hold the front lines of democracy and freedom strong,” he said.
China commemorates the revolution by recalling Republican leader Sun Yat-sen’s calls for patriotism, national rejuvenation, and good governance.
Xi used the speech to underscore the need for “a strong force to lead the country, and this strong force is the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no New China and therefore there would be no rejuvenation of the Chinese people,” he said.
Xi has tightened the party’s grip on all aspects of life and will almost certainly break protocol and remain head of the Communist Party for a third term at the end of next year, when a congress will elect new leadership for the next five. years.