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Chinese President Xi says he will "leave no room" for separatist activities, and that Beijing "reserves the option of taking all necessary means," including the use of force, for the Taiwan "reunification."
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday that the island's "unification" with China was not possible under the "one country, two systems" model. She, however, agreed to start a dialogue with Beijing as an exchange between two sovereign states.
In a televised speech, Tsai reiterated her government's stance that Taiwan would not accept Chinese President Xi Jinping's proposal as Taiwan's public opinion was opposed.
"We have never accepted the 92 consensus because, even as per China's definition, Taiwan is part of the 'one country, two systems' model," Tsai said. "President Xi's speech shows that our concerns about his intention to unify Taiwan with China are true."
Speaking at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Wednesday, Xi pledged efforts for the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with China, but did not rule out using military force.
Xi described reunification under a "one country, two systems" approach that would ensure "the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots."
All people in Taiwan must "clearly recognize that Taiwan independence would only bring profound disaster to Taiwan," Xi said in his address.
"We are willing to create broad space for peaceful reunification, but will leave no room for any form of separatist activities," he said. "We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means."
Separated, but not independent
Xi's speech commemorated the 40th anniversary of a message sent to Taiwan in 1979, in which China called for unification and an end to military confrontation.
Chinese Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after a civil war that brought the Communists to power in China. The Nationalists set up their own government on the island, located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the Chinese mainland.
China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory despite the two sides being ruled separately, while Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state. The two sides have close business, cultural and personal links.
Taiwan has yet to declare formal independence from China, though it has its own currency as well as political and judicial systems.
Need for a dialogue
President Tsai said she was willing to start a cross-strait political negotiation with China as long as it was organized as an exchange between two sovereign states. She urged China to peacefully resolve differences with Taipei instead of forcing Taiwanese people to surrender through intimidation.
"We are willing to conduct healthy and orderly cross-strait exchanges under the foundation of consolidating democracy and strengthening national security," Tsai underlined.
She stressed that Taiwan has been fulfilling its responsibility in maintaining regional stability for the past two years but has in return received threats from Beijing. She insisted that as a superpower, China needed to fulfill its responsibility as one of the major players in the international community.
"I want to remind Beijing that the international community is also waiting to see whether China is willing to become a trustworthy partner or not."
Referring to November's local elections in Taiwan, Tsai said that the result was not tantamount to the Taiwanese people surrendering their sovereignty, and that it also doesn't mean that Taipei is ready to make major concessions to Beijing.
"Taiwanese people believe in democratic values," said Tsai. "We urge China to also initiate its own democratization process, because that's the only way to understand Taiwanese people's aspirations," she added.
Growing pressure from Beijing
While most observers agree that Xi's speech didn't deviate from his larger policies toward Taiwan, there are signs that he is now increasingly putting more emphasis on "unification."
Ding Shuh-fan, an international relations expert at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, told DW it is the first time a Chinese president has laid out concrete proposals regarding the "one country, two systems" model.
"While Xi's speech was mostly an extension of his policies toward Taiwan, this time he put more emphasis on unification," Ding said.
Ding is of the view that Xi needs to show progress on the Taiwan issue as he is coming under pressure from Chinese Communist Party officials for his decision to scrap the presidential term limits in his country.
"I can feel that Xi is desperate to get some quick results on Taiwan," Ding said.
The expert believes that Xi's speech has put enormous pressure on the Taiwanese president at the same time.
"If the pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) party wins the 2020 presidential election, Xi will likely demand Taipei to take concrete measures toward unification with China," Ding said.
Unification through force?
Although President Xi said in his speech that unification with Taiwan through force is a possibility, Ding believes it is unlikely that Beijing would send troops to occupy Taiwan. At the same time, the international relations expert says, Chinese authorities are wary of the US' role in the region, which they believe could embolden Taiwan's pro-independence groups.
"Xi's talk about the possibility of unification through force is both a warning to pro-independence groups in Taiwan and the US," Ding suggested.
Experts are of the view that China is also aware of the fact that Taiwan's younger generation is drifting away from its influence and that they needed to address the issue.
"President Xi is worried that the number of Taiwanese who identify themselves as Chinese is dropping. That is why he wants to draw a clear line on the unification issue," Ding underlined.