The democratic island of Taiwan on Friday vowed to defend its national sovereignty as China said it would step up exchanges in a bid to involve the nation of 23 million people — most of whom have no wish to be ruled by Beijing — in its plan for “national rejuvenation.”
“We must stick to our key policies in our work with Taiwan,” Chinese premier Li Keqiang told the National People’s Congress (NPC) annual session in Beijing.
Li said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has never ruled Taiwan, would “resolutely curb separatist activities” there, as well as “promoting cross-strait exchanges and cooperation and integrated development, and working together to create a bright future for national rejuvenation.”
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was perfectly happy with the status quo.
“The government has consistently promoted peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and will continue to firmly defend national sovereignty and Taiwan’s freedom and democracy,” MAC spokesman Chiu Chui-cheng told reporters after Li’s comments.
“[We] will continue to pay attention to Taiwan-related remarks and actions during the NPC annual session,” he said.
Chiu said Taiwan would only accept talks with Beijing in an attitude of mutual respect. Beijing refuses to acknowledge Taiwan as a sovereign entity, and insists on referring to its government as the “local authorities.”
He said the administration of DPP president Tsai Ing-wen “respects the opposition and doubts of the Taiwanese people to a regime that dwarfs Taiwan, and the constant negative pressure from the CCP’s United Front [influence campaign].”
“Gradually resolving differences through communication will indeed protect the rights and interests of the people on both sides of the strait,” Chiu said.
Wang Chih-sheng, secretary-general of Taiwan’s Association of Chinese Elite Leadership, said Li’s comments on Taiwan showed that Beijing’s policy hasn’t changed, although its language may have softened somewhat from the warlike rhetoric used during last year’s presidential election campaign.
“There was more emphasis on campaigning against independence last year; when their entire Taiwan policy seemed to harden,” Wang said, adding that Li had once more used the adjective “peaceful” in connection with Taiwan.
Cause for concern
He said the Chinese premier’s use of the word “harmonious” gave cause for concern, however.
“Their so-called harmony means that they will try every avenue they can, but that their plans [to annex Taiwan] are still in progress,” Wang said. “They want to employ coercive measures to achieve this peaceful ‘unification’.”
Wong Ming-hsien, professor of international affairs at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said Li’s speech indicated that Beijing will be stepping up both carrot and stick approaches towards Taiwan.
“The soft part is that the State Council will strengthen measures to benefit Taiwan nationals at provincial and city level, while the hard part is stepping up military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan, including [excluding it from] international organizations,” Wong told RFA.
He said much of the tone of Li’s remarks was intended for the United States.
“[When China talks about] trying to curb Taiwan independence, or separatist activities, that includes the need to limit [military] assistance from the U.S.,” he said.
But he said there is a growing awareness in the international community of Taiwan’s potential contribution — as a liberal democracy — to international agencies.
Tamkang University international relations expert Chen Yi-hsin said President Tsai’s administration had deliberately maintained a conciliatory tone in the face of Beijing’s saber-rattling after her 2020 re-election.
“They couldn’t be too tough because Tsai Ing-wen was quite conciliatory,” Chen said. “It’s possible that the CCP’s Xi Jinping still plans to invade Taiwan using military force, but they’re not saying this openly.”
He said tensions had recently risen somewhat following a Chinese import ban on Taiwanese pineapples.
Li Keqiang also announced there was a 6.8 percent annual rise in military spending last year, compared with 2019.
But analysts said the figure likely excludes a good deal of funding that would be considered military, but which is camouflaged in other departments’ budgets.
“Military expenditure in China isn’t the same as in the rest of the world,” analyst Zhou Di told RFA. “For example, certain technologies developed by Huawei could be counted as military spending, and yet it’s not included in the figures.”
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei and Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.