On the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of a thaw in Beijing's relationship with Taiwan, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized his position that the island is part of China and that foreigners should not interfere in the matter of Taiwanese independence.
Ahead of Xi's speech, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Tuesday that China must use peaceful means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and respect its democratic values.
In Xi's speech, which came on the 40th anniversary of a 1979 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy statement titled "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan", he called the integration of Taiwan and China a "historical conclusion drawn over the 70 years of the development of cross-strait relations" but offered few new specifics. As NPR's Beijing Correspondent Rob Schmitz has reported previously, Taiwan split from China in 1949 when the USA -supported Chinese nationalist leadership fled after losing a civil war to communist forces.
While Taiwan is self-governed and de-facto independent, it has never formally declared independence from the mainland. Beijing, for instance, poached three of Taipei's diplomatic allies in 2018 alone; there are now just 17 countries that have formal relations with Taiwan.
Though Xi insisted that "it's a legal fact that both sides of the Strait belong to one China, and can not be changed by anyone or any force", his speech was to some degree conciliatory, calling for discussion and increased economic cooperation.
Taiwan's leader has rejected the Chinese president's call for unification under a "one country, two systems" approach.
Mr Xi said both sides were part of the same Chinese family and that Taiwanese independence was "an adverse current from history and a dead end".
"China has to squarely face the factual existence of the Republic of China, Taiwan, instead of denying the democratic system that the Taiwanese people have built together".
Xi's speech comes a day after Tsai - who has refused to accept the "one China" framework - used her New Year's address to warn against continued threats from China.
President Xi has taken steps to unify the two lands since becoming China's leader in 2012. As part of the government's New Southbound Policy, visitors from six Southeast Asian countries were allowed visa-free entry to Taiwan if they held a resident card or visa for Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, any European Union or Schengen countries, the United Kingdom, or the U.S. that had expired less than 10 years prior to their date of arrival.
At the same time, Mr. Xi has brought new assertiveness to Chinese foreign policy, underpinned by the country's rising economic power and a swelling confidence that Beijing now possesses the economic, military and diplomatic sway to achieve its long-held desires.
"It's so obvious that they're trying to assimilate Hong Kong into wider mainland China in every way".
"We have never accepted the "1992 consensus.' The fundamental reason is because the "1992 consensus" as defined by Beijing is in fact the 'one China principle" and 'one China, two systems" formula", Tsai said. In 2019, Beijing will likely further ramp up such pressure tactics on Taiwan.
In recent years, Beijing has become increasingly assertive over its claims and what it says is a key question of national sovereignty.