Xi Jinping Promises that Taiwan "Must Be, Will Be Reunified"

Chinese bomber conducts an "island encirclement" drill over Taiwan, April 2018 (Chinese state media)

By The Maritime Executive 01-03-2019 01:50:36

On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping doubled down on previous rhetoric by insisting that "China must be, will be reunified" with Taiwan, preferably by peaceful means. Beijing has long sought to regain control over Taiwan, which it regards as an intrinsic part of "one China," and the prospect of a cross-strait conflict over the island's governance is a perennial consideration for American military planners.

"We sincerely hope all the compatriots in Taiwan treasure peace as much as they treasure their own eyes, and pursue national reunification as much as they pursue happiness," Xi said. "'Taiwan independence' goes against the trend of history and will lead to a dead end . . . cross-strait reunification is something that no one can stop."

While promoting the concept of a peaceable reunion, with a "one country, two systems" approach to governance, Xi did not rule out military action. "We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures, targeting external interference and a very small number of 'Taiwan independence' separatists and their separatist activities," Xi warned. In particular, while he promised that "Chinese don't fight Chinese," he suggested that "external forces" could face consequences if they attempted to interfere with reunification. 

A formal Taiwanese declaration of independence would be a red line for China. Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen currently faces intense pressure from within her party to step aside and allow hardline pro-independence leaders to take over government; on Thursday, she rejected Xi's call for a "one country, two systems" solution.

Xi's speech did not refer to "external forces" by name, but the United States and Japan are the only third-party nations with militarily significant relationships with Taiwan. Though the U.S. does not officially acknowledge Taiwan's statehood or guarantee its security, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 specifies that America will "consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means . . . a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."

The U.S. Navy regularly transits the Strait of Formosa in what it describes as routine vessel operations in accordance with international law; Beijing considers these movements to be acts of provocation, as it does with U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation patrols in the South China Sea. 

The United States is also a key supplier for Taiwan's armed forces - including its navy, which operates four former U.S. Navy destroyers and several former U.S. Navy frigates, in addition to indigenously-built warships based on licensed American designs.