Taipei rebuffed China’s future plans for Taiwan as “wishful thinking” on Wednesday after Chinese Communist Party officials held a press conference to review 10 years of Xi Jinping‘s policy toward the island.
Taiwan has had a separate political existence from the mainland since 1949 when communist leader Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. Successive Chinese leaders have articulated a claim to Taiwan, which was democratized in the mid-1990s, but none has managed to secure control of the island.
Xi, who rose to power in 2012, has prioritized deterring a formal declaration of Taiwanese independence, and most observers don’t see the Chinese president as urgently needing to achieve the country’s long-term goal of “unification” with the island.
However, as Xi inches closer to securing an unprecedented third term next month, he has to be seen as making progress on Beijing’s “core interest,” observers say.
Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang told reporters that China would prioritize “peaceful unification,” but he maintained the government’s line of refusing to rule out the use of force to achieve its objective regarding Taiwan.
“We will work with the greatest sincerity and exert our utmost efforts to achieve peaceful reunification,” Ma said. “But if Taiwan independence separatist elements or external forces provoke us or ever cross our red lines, we will be compelled to take drastic measures.”
China published its first white paper on Taiwan in over two decades last month, in which it renewed its proposal to rule the island under a “one country, two systems” model. This theory was originally devised for Taiwan, but Beijing first applied the idea to Hong Kong in 1997 and then to Macau two years after that.
The model was meant to grant a semi-autonomous existence to peoples who shared different political ideologies from Chinese citizens. The government of President Tsai Ing-wen and Taiwan’s public writ large have long found the idea unpalatable, even more so after Beijing crushed democratic freedoms in Hong Kong in recent years.
Ma described the proposal as an “inclusive, peaceful, democratic and goodwill” solution that would guarantee the continuation of Taiwan’s social system and grant the island economic prosperity.
Amid concerns that a Chinese takeover of the island would cause large disruptions to the global economy, especially if Beijing chooses to use force, Ma said unification “won’t undermine any country’s legitimate interests, including its economic interests in Taiwan.”
The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), which is the TAO’s counterpart in Taipei, rejected Beijing’s latest overtures. It described Wednesday’s press conference as a “domestic political campaign to extend the CCP leader’s rule.”
“The people of Taiwan will never accept any political proposition or path that infringes on our sovereignty. Moreover, this further shows that Beijing’s long-term, rigid and failed efforts toward Taiwan and its restrictive mindset have no positive meaning for the development of cross-strait relations and regional peace,” its statement said.
“Democracy and authoritarianism are fundamentally incompatible. Beijing’s worn-out ‘one country, two systems’ rhetoric only proves the flaws of the CCP’s one-party dictatorship, which the Taiwanese people have already clearly rejected,” the MAC said.
As tensions continue between Beijing and Taipei, analysts say the cross-strait impasse, which has lacked meaningful political dialogue since 2016, must be managed indirectly through China’s relations and the United States, which doesn’t support Taiwan’s independence but expects cross-strait differences to be resolved peacefully.
The U.S. is Taiwan’s strongest international backer and its most regular supplier of weapons. For more than 40 years, American legislation has required Washington to help Taipei maintain a credible self-defense. Last week, President Joe Biden suggested he would be willing to defend the island with U.S. troops.