TAIPEI (REUTERS, AFP) - Taipei and Beijing need to drop their historical retaliation, focus on better dialogue and peacefully develop cross-strait relations, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Thursday (Oct 26).
Relations with Beijing have deteriorated sharply since Tsai, who leads the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office last year, with China suspecting she wants to push for the island's formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
Tsai made the comments at a cross-straits forum that came after Beijing unveiled a new leadership line-up on Wednesday (Oct 25) following the conclusion of the 19th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress.
Tsai recalled that it had been 30 years since Taiwan began allowing Nationalist soldiers who fled to the island after the Communists’ victory on the mainland to return home to China to visit relatives. It was a “milestone” in cross-strait development, Tsai said.
Responding to Tsai’s speech, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the political basis for relations across the Taiwan Strait was the “one China” principle, which states that the mainland and Taiwan are part of one China. As long as that is recognised, there are no obstacles to any talks between the sides, the office said in a statement carried by state media.
China has been stepping up the pressure on Taiwan. This year, China’s air force has carried out several rounds of drills near Taiwan, prompting the island’s air force to scramble fighters.
Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Taiwan was a part of China and the military exercises would continue as normal, adding that China was sincere in seeking “peaceful reunification”.
“At the same time, we have the ability, confidence and means to protect the country’s unity, sovereignty, security and territorial integrity,” he told a monthly news conference in Beijing later in the day.
During the CCP party congress, President Xi Jinping repeated Beijing’s offer to restore communication with Taiwan if Tsai’s government recognises the 1992 consensus.
He said in his work report at the opening of the week-long congress on Oct 18 that China can “defeat any intention of ‘Taiwan independence’ in any form”.
He stressed that China will never “allow any person, any organization, any political party, at any time, in any form, to separate any piece of Chinese territory from China.”
Xi also urged Taipei to recognise the “1992 Consensus”, which President Tsai has been refusing to publicly acknowledge since she came into office in May last year (2016). The 1992 Consensus refers to the understanding that both China and Taiwan belong to one China, with each side having a different interpretation of what this meant.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said Mr Xi's comments on Taiwan were “regrettable,” as Beijing “intentionally highlighted” its “defensive attitude” towards Taipei.
“The Republic of China is a sovereign country; it is absolutely the right of Taiwan’s 23 million people to decide Taiwan’s future and the development of the cross-strait relations.”
The MAC pointed out that Taiwan’s government under Tsai, which has remained “reasonable, pragmatic and restrained without making provocations” in the past year, does “respect the historical facts of the 1992 talks”.
Wu Den-yih, the chairman of Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), congratulated the Chinese leader for being re-elected as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee on Wednesday (Oct 25).
In his message to Xi, Wu said that the KMT and CCP have made efforts to promote peaceful development in cross-strait relations by adhering to the 1992 Consensus and both sides have witnessed the remarkable achievements.
Wu also expressed hope that the two parties will continue to deepen the 1992 Consensus, strengthen mutual trust and cooperation, and create a new cross-strait peaceful development.
In return, Xi expressed gratitude for Wu's congratulations, saying that the two parties confirmed the adherence to the 1992 Consensus and the opposition to "Taiwan independence", reported Chinese state media.
Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan a wayward province to be brought under its control by force if necessary.