Separatist efforts will be condemned, Beijing warns

A signboard stands at the site of the new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) compound in Taipei on March 17, 2018. AIT is the de facto US embassy in Taiwan.
A signboard stands at the site of the new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) compound in Taipei on March 17, 2018. AIT is the de facto US embassy in Taiwan.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Beijing has issued a stern warning to Taiwan that all "acts and ploys" in pursuit of independence would be doomed to failure, even as it said it would continue seeking the peaceful development of cross-strait ties.

In more forceful language than he used at last October's 19th party congress, President Xi Jinping said yesterday that separatist efforts "will be condemned by the Chinese people and punished by history".

"The Chinese people have a firm will, full confidence and sufficient ability to frustrate all attempts at splitting the country," he said in his speech closing the annual parliamentary session. "The Chinese people and nation share a common belief: that every inch of our great motherland's territory cannot and is impossible to be separated from China."

Mr Xi's harder line came days after the United States passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows the US to send senior officials to Taiwan and vice versa. The US and Taiwan have maintained only unofficial ties since America switched official recognition to China in 1979. But President Donald Trump's signing of the Bill last Friday signalled that he would consider allowing high-level US-Taiwan contact, which China strongly opposes.

Cross-strait relations have nosedived since Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, as she has so far not acknowledged the 1992 Consensus, a tacit agreement that there is one China, open to interpretation by both sides.

Instead, her administration has pursued policies China sees as moves towards independence, such as de-emphasising classical Chinese content in the education system and drawing closer to the US.

Mr Trump said early last year that America's "one China" policy was negotiable, a stance he later reversed.

Yesterday, Premier Li Keqiang told reporters that China "will not allow any foreign power to play the 'Taiwan card'". Beijing will also continue with preferential policies to encourage more Taiwanese to work, study and live on the mainland "because we are one family", he added.

Yesterday, Premier Li Keqiang told reporters that China "will not allow any foreign power to play the 'Taiwan card'". Beijing will also continue with preferential policies to encourage more Taiwanese to work, study and live on the mainland "because we are one family", he added.

Experts said the tougher language is aimed at arresting what China sees as latent independence forces in Taiwan, and to prevent them from gaining any momentum.

"Especially after the US passed this Taiwan Travel Act, it's highly likely that the Tsai administration will announce new policies in response to the new law," said East Asian Institute China analyst Chen Gang. "So it's both a warning and a preventive measure against US-Taiwan relations moving to a more official basis."

China will also look to more closely integrate the development of Hong Kong and Macau with the rest of the country, while "enhancing the national awareness and patriotism" of their people, said Mr Xi.

Asked if the development of the Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau Bay Area might cause Hong Kong to lose its positioning or dilute the "one country, two systems" principle, Mr Li said each of the three has its unique and complementary advantages that will together make for a world-class greater bay area.

"If we can jointly develop and achieve mutual benefits and win-win results with other countries, what more the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, which belong to one country?" he said.

"The 'one country, two systems' principle will give full play to their respective advantages, form complementarities and create new growth poles."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2018, with the headline 'Separatist efforts will be condemned, Beijing warns'. Print Edition | Subscribe