China's top political advisory body has voiced its opposition to Taiwanese independence in its annual report for the first time since 2008, reflecting its concern about a breakaway as the island's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) prepares to take power.
China's fourth-ranked leader Yu Zhengsheng, who chairs the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said Beijing will uphold the "1992 Consensus" and oppose Taiwanese independence as its political foundation while seeking to advance cross-strait ties.
Outlining its 2016 work as the CPPCC opened its annual session yesterday, Mr Yu said Beijing would be launching exchange programmes for Taiwan's youth "to experience the mainland first-hand" and also study the employment situation of Taiwanese students who have attended mainland schools.
The last time the phrase Taiwanese independence - tai du in Mandarin - appeared in a CPPCC annual work report was in March 2008.
That was just before the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) regained power later that month, ushering in a balmy phase of ties over the next eight years.
But now, Beijing is concerned over disruption in cross-strait cooperation and a possible push for independence after the KMT lost the legislative and presidential polls in January to the DPP, whose leader Tsai Ing-wen is set to take office as President in May.
Ms Tsai's nebulous stance on the 1992 Consensus - that there is one China, with the two sides having different interpretations of what it means - has alarmed Beijing, which views it as a prerequisite for continuing high-level engagement.
Mr Yu's remarks yesterday were less strident than those made by his predecessor Jia Qinglin, who, for instance, swore in 2006 to "uncompromisingly oppose and keep in check secessionist forces advocating Taiwanese independence and their activities".
Still, analysts say the use of the phrase tai du by Mr Yu - CPPCC chief since 2013 - reflects Beijing's concern that the DPP might launch pro-independence activities again.
"The mainland is sending a message that its stance against Taiwanese independence is unshakeable," cross-strait expert Chu Jingtao of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told The Straits Times.
"The emphasis on engaging Taiwanese youth is a move in the right direction as Taiwan's future is with its youth. The mainland needs to increase its interaction with them to create conducive conditions for development of cross-strait ties."
Mr Yu also pledged to uphold the "one country, two systems" framework in Hong Kong and maintain the city's high degree of self-autonomy, in the face of anti-mainland sentiments there that have spiralled into violence in recent months.
The CPPCC, which gathers some 2,200 political advisers in Beijing for meetings till March 14, is held alongside the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), or national legislature, which begins tomorrow and ends on March 16. Mr Yu urged the advisers to focus this year on conducting better-quality research related to the implementation of the 13th Five- Year Plan, the country's development blueprint for 2016-2020 that will be finalised at the NPC session.