BEIJING (AFP, Reuters) – China will resolutely oppose and contain Taiwan independence, Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening of the annual meeting of parliament on Sunday (March 5), amid heightened tension between Beijing and the self-ruled island.
“We will resolutely oppose and contain separatist activities for Taiwan independence,” Li said in a speech opening the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress. “We will never tolerate any activity, in any form or name, which attempts to separate Taiwan from the motherland.”
Trump raised eyebrows following his November election victory with a protocol-busting telephone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. He later threw doubt on the “One China” policy – a tacit acknowledgement of China’s claim to the self-ruled island – suggesting that the decades-old diplomatic formulation was up for negotiation, which drew protests from China.
Li, however, extended the usual cautious olive branch across the Taiwan Strait, saying China would continue efforts to increase linkages with the island, which have included rising cross-strait investment, daily direct flights and increased tourism between the two territories.
“People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should keep in mind the greater interests of the nation”, and work towards the “reunification of China”.
In Hong Kong, fears have grown that Beijing is increasingly interfering in the governance of the semi-autonomous financial hub, sparking calls by some activists for self-determination or even independence.
Such calls have riled Beijing, and Li shut down any hope of Hong Kong independence.
“The notion of Hong Kong independence will lead nowhere,” he said.
Li’s annual report to the highly choreographed congress highlights key government priorities for the year, which are then typically parroted in subsequent delegate meetings.
The 10-day NPC session runs until March 15.
China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose ruling Democratic Progressive Party espouses the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing, which has cut off an official dialogue mechanism with Taipei. Tsai says she wants peace with China.
Defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, viewing it as a wayward province.
In 2014, hundreds of students occupied Taiwan’s parliament for weeks in protests known as the Sunflower Movement, demanding more transparency and fearful of China’s growing economic and political influence on the democratic island.
Chinese jets and warships carried out exercises near Taiwan and into the Western Pacific on Thursday, as Taiwan’s defence minister warned of a growing threat from its giant neighbour.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, granting it extensive autonomy, an independent judiciary and rule of law for at least 50 years.
Hong Kong students organised weeks of protests in late 2014 to push for full democracy, but Beijing declined to make concessions. Chinese leaders are increasingly concerned about a fledgling independence movement in Hong Kong.
China’s parliament last year staged a rare interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to effectively bar pro-independence city lawmakers from taking office there.
Communist Party rulers in Beijing have ultimate control over Hong Kong, and some Hong Kong people are concerned they are increasingly interfering to head off dissent.