ANALYSIS: Xi Jinping’s Speech Did Not Give Taiwan’s People What They Want

Xi’s Jan. 2 speech reiterated the existing PRC stance on its eventual peaceful unification with Taiwan.

The News Lens
Date: 2019/01/23
By: Bonnie S. Glaser, Asia Dialogue

Credit: Reuters / TPG

On Jan. 2, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered his first speech focused exclusively on policy toward Taiwan. The occasion for the major policy address was the 40th anniversary of the “message to Taiwan compatriots,” which marked a shift in Beijing’s policy from seeking to “liberate” Taiwan to a new approach of “peaceful reunification.” Having concluded some time ago that Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) seeks to further separate Taiwan from China rather than promote integration, Xi’s speech was a blatant attempt to bypass the government in Taipei and persuade the people of Taiwan of the benefits of reunification. His appeals fell flat, however, and revealed Xi Jinping’s shallow understanding of Taiwan’s democratic system and the aspirations of its people.

As in many other areas of policy, Xi Jinping appears confident that China’s approach will eventually succeed. At least for now, achieving reunification is not an urgent item on Xi Jinping’s agenda.

After recounting China’s painful history of national humiliation at the hands of foreigners beginning with the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century, Xi called on Taiwan “compatriots” to be “proud to be Chinese” and to join their brethren in China in striving to achieve the goal of national rejuvenation. In recent years, however, most polls conducted in Taiwan show that approximately five percent of Taiwan’s citizen self-identify as Chinese. The majority of Taiwan’s population considers Taiwan and China to be two separate countries. Ignoring the fact that China’s proposal of “one country, two systems” has been roundly rejected in Taiwan, Xi presented it as the best and only offer. His overture to “explore a Taiwan plan” for “one country, two systems that “will give full consideration to Taiwan’s real situation” was likely intended to reassure Taiwan’s people that they would get a better deal than Hong Kong. The erosion of Hong Kong’s promised freedoms in recent years under Xi’s rule, however, has strengthened Taiwan’s opposition to “one country, two systems” and heightened fears of political integration with China.

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