All eyes on Xi's Taiwan speech in a year of sensitive anniversaries

A New Year art installation comprising 2,019 illuminated balloons in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei. Taiwan is the focus of Chinese President Xi Jinping's first important, pre-announced public event of 2019. Mr Xi will give a maj
A New Year art installation comprising 2,019 illuminated balloons in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei. Taiwan is the focus of Chinese President Xi Jinping's first important, pre-announced public event of 2019. Mr Xi will give a major speech tomorrow on the 40th anniversary of a key policy statement that led to a thaw in relations with Taiwan.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING • China will kick off a year of sensitive anniversaries with a major speech tomorrow by President Xi Jinping on Taiwan, China's most sensitive issue.

In 2019, China will celebrate 70 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Anniversaries are always touchy events in China, where maintaining stability is the ruling Communist Party's overwhelming priority.

This year brings at least six anniversaries that could unsettle the party, from June's 30 years since the Tiananmen crackdown to October's 70 years since Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic at the end of a civil war.

However, it will be self-ruled Taiwan, proudly democratic and claimed by China as its own, that will be the focus of Mr Xi's first important, pre-announced public event of the year.

State news agency Xinhua said yesterday that Mr Xi will give a major speech in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on the 40th anniversary of a key policy statement that led to a thaw in relations with Taiwan, the "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan".

Xinhua gave no other details.

Today also marks the 40th anniversary of the United States and China officially normalising relations, seven years after then President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China, beginning that process.

On Jan 1, 1949, China declared an end to what had been routine artillery bombardment of Taiwan-controlled offshore islands close to China and offered to open up communications between the two sides, after decades of hostility.

However, the offer was rebuffed by Taiwan's then President Chiang Ching-kuo, who in April that year came out with a "Three Noes" policy of no contact, no compromise and no negotiation with China.

Mr Chiang relaxed that only in 1987, allowing people in Taiwan to visit China for family reunions.

His father, Chiang Kai-shek, fled with defeated Nationalist forces to Taiwan in December 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists.

No formal peace treaty or formal end to hostilities has ever been signed.

Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections in January 2020.

President Tsai Ing-wen's pro-independence Democratic Pro-gressive Party suffered stinging losses to the China-friendly Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November.

China has heaped pressure on Ms Tsai since she took office in 2016, cutting off dialogue, whittling down Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies and forcing foreign airlines to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites.

China fears Ms Tsai wishes to push for Taiwan's formal independence, though she has said she wants to maintain the status quo.

Mr Xi said in March that Taiwan would face the "punishment of history" for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island claimed by China as its sacred territory.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2019, with the headline 'All eyes on Xi's Taiwan speech in a year of sensitive anniversaries'. Print Edition | Subscribe