This weekend marks the 110th anniversary of the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in China and the establishment of the Republic of China. As part of the ceremonial celebrations, Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the nation. During his remarks, he brought up the ongoing tension surrounding Taiwan, but he steered clear of the usual rhetoric coming from Chinese state media about “crushing” the island nation and sending military sorties into their airspace. Instead, he called for a “peaceful reunification” with the mainland, saying that it would be “most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots.” It was an oddly diplomatic moment for a leader who only recently threatened to destroy Taiwan along with anyone who acted to defend them. (Associated Press)
Chinese leader Xi Jinping said on Saturday that a “peaceful” reunification of Taiwan with China’s mainland was in Beijing’s interests, despite ratcheted up military threats against the self-governing island.
Xi spoke at an official celebration in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that focused largely on the need for the ruling Communist Party to continue to lead China as the country rises in power and influence.
“Reunification of the nation must be realized, and will definitely be realized,” Xi vowed before an audience of politicians, military personnel and others gathered in the hulking chamber that serves as the seat of China’s ceremonial legislature.
Clearly, Xi was simply trying to set a bit of a milder tone during the National Day celebration. He can call for a peaceful reunification all he wants, but Taiwan clearly has no interest. Of course, you’ll also note that Xi said that reunification “definitely will be realized,” without specifying that it would have to be peaceful. He later went on to say, “The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affair, which tolerates no external interference.”
In other words, nothing has changed in terms of China’s policy toward Taiwan. They still see it as being exclusively their territory and they plan to take it back one way or the other. And as we’ve discussed here previously, China seems to be increasingly confident that they could do it without any other nation rushing to Taiwan’s defense militarily.
That doesn’t mean that it’s definitely going to happen, of course. Or at least not in the immediate future. China has been saying the same things about Taiwan for a very long time without ever having followed through. And launching a direct, military assault on Taiwan to retake it by force would be a highly provocative move, even for China.
One interesting additional item in this story is worth mentioning. Taiwan was also holding National Day celebrations this weekend, including a large parade. But breaking with its policy from previous decades, the parade featured military hardware, including large missile launch vehicles, though the actual missiles were not visible. In the past, the Taiwanese government had pointedly avoided any public military displays of that sort in an effort to avoid looking too provocative. But now that China is turning up the heat, they’ve apparently decided to send a message of their own.
It’s still entirely possible that nothing will come of this, at least not for the foreseeable future. The Chinese may just be using Taiwan as a convenient foil to draw attention away from some of the domestic problems they are wrestling with. It wouldn’t be at all unusual to present Taiwan as some sort of existential threat in an attempt to promote nationalistic feelings among the population and discourage them from complaining about the rolling power outages and supply chain problems plaguing them at home.