Will Force Be Used in Solving the Taiwan Issue?

Houtao Zhong
(Researcher, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences )

In his January 2 speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Message 
to Compatriots in Taiwan, which charts the course for work regarding Taiwan 
in the new era, Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping not 
only offered a panoramic review of the torturous 70-year history of relations 
across the Taiwan Strait, but also presented an all-round preview of the 
fine prospect of peaceful reunification of the two sides of the Strait in 
the future.

Xi said, “We do not commit to forsake the use of force, and preserve the 
option of taking all necessary measures” in the speech. This attracted 
broad attention at home and abroad, making many wonder whether the Taiwan 
issue will be solved with force, and whether the two sides of the Strait 
will again engage in armed conflict.To answer such questions, one must look 
at the entirety of Xi's speech, and take into account major previous policy 
statements, rather than take things out of context.

Peaceful reunification is the best way toward realizing national reunification

Since the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan was published on January 1, 1979, 
fundamental changes have taken place in the mainland's Taiwan policies, 
turning from “liberating Taiwan” to peaceful reunification. After that, 
“peaceful reunification, one country, two systems” has been an essential 
guiding principle in the mainland's Taiwan policies, which has never wavered 
a bit over the past four decades. In his January 2 speech, Xi was talking 
about peaceful reunification almost from the start to the end, and presented 
a wonderful prospect of peaceful reunification. In the 4,237-character speech,
 “peace” appeared 39 times, which means “peace” was mentioned in nearly 
every 100 characters, sufficing to demonstrate the mainland's resolve and 
sincerity about pursuing peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. 
General Secretary Xi specifically said we should “treasure peace like treasuring 
our own eyes”, illustrating the significance attached to peace.

The mainland's refusal to forsake the use of force is aimed at containing 
“Taiwan independence”. For a long time, “Taiwan independence” seekers 
on the island have been making troubles, attempting to disrupt the process 
of peaceful development of cross-Strait ties, sabotaging peace and stability 
in and around Taiwan, creating tremendous risks and challenges for the wellbeing 
of people on both sides of the Strait. To effectively check the overweening 
momentum of separatist forces, General Secretary Xi stated, “We do not 
commit to forsake the use of force, and preserve the option of taking all 
necessary measures”. At the same time, Xi stressed that refusing to forsake 
the use of force is “targeted at interference by outsider forces as well 
as an extremely small number of separatist elements seeking 'Taiwan independence'
 and their separatist activities, absolutely not at compatriots in Taiwan”
. This indicates force could be used against separatist forces seeking independence,
 not Taiwan compatriots. For compatriots in Taiwan, the mainland will continue 
proceeding from the idea of “both sides of the Straits belongs to one family”
, constantly creating conditions and providing an increasingly broader stage 
for them to study, find jobs, and work in the mainland. Therefore, generally 
speaking, the basic tune of General Secretary Xi's speech was “softer where 
it was meant to be soft, tougher where it was meant to be tough”. The mainland 
will always treat compatriots in Taiwan with sincerity, and patiently cultivate 
rapport. Meanwhile, it will be merciless with independence-minded separatist 
forces, resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, 
and have both the confidence and ability to thwart any separatist moves.

China and the US should jointly manage Taiwan independence

Though China and the US have divergences over Taiwan, they also have consensuses.
 Preserving peace and stability in and around Taiwan is in both sides' interests.
 Therefore, when independence seekers stir up troubles, both China's mainland 
and the US should intervene, even without consulting each other in advance, 
and issue decisive warnings to the “Taiwan independence” forces. When 
Chen Shui-bian threw out the “one country on each side”, the mainland 
responded forcefully, the then US president also condemned him as a “trouble 
maker”, indicating that the two parties' interests overlaps highly when 
it comes to opposing “Taiwan independence” and preserving regional peace. 
Lately, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party authorities in Taiwan have 
frequently stirred up tensions in cross-Strait relations in the form of 
“flexible Taiwan independence”. Immediately following General Secretary 
Xi's important speech, Tsai Ing-wen jumped out and explicitly rejected the 
“1992 Consensus” and “one country, two systems”, displaying a tougher 
stance than those of previous Taiwan leaders Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian,
 which has added tremendous variables to the peaceful development of cross-Strait 
ties. Taiwan thus has the potential to again become a powder keg and flashpoint 
in the Asia-Pacific.

Over the past decades, China and the US have accumulated precious experiences 
in “jointly managing 'Taiwan independence'”. Today, as the dying embers 
of “Taiwan independence” flare up, the mainland and the US should learn 
lessons from their past experiences, and join hands to issue explicit warnings 
to independence seekers, prevent them from misjudging the situation and 
disrupting the overall China-US relationship as well as peace and stability 
in the entire Asia-Pacific.

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