(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that efforts to widen divisions with Taiwan would be “punished by history” in a nationalistic speech to mark the start of his second term.
In an address to China’s almost 3,000-member national parliament, Xi said China had the capabilities to stop any attempt to formalize the democratically ruled island’s independence. The remarks came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a law allowing high-level official visits to Taiwan, a move that would elevate its diplomatic status.
“All acts and schemes to split China are doomed to failure and will be condemned by the people and punished by history,” Xi told the closing session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “The Chinese people have the firm will, full confidence and sufficient ability to defeat all activities to split the country.”
The remarks on Taiwan were part of a roughly 40-minute speech in which Xi repeatedly emphasized the importance of “the people’s” support for the Communist Party’s rule. The president said public backing was fundamental to achieving his goal of becoming a global power by 2050.
“This is an official warning from China’s top leader to the U.S. and Taiwan,” said Wang Jiangyu, an international law professor at the National University of Singapore. “It’s an announcement that China will never compromise on Taiwan-related issues.”
Xi has emerged from China’s annual legislative meeting with a strengthened grip over the levers of power in China. The legislature voted unanimously to re-elect him as president after removing a constitutional provision that limited him to two terms in office. It also voted for a major overhaul of China’s government and approved the appointment of Xi associates to top government positions.
While Taiwan is self-ruled and enjoys American military support, China considers the island a province and has made acceptance of its “one-China” claim a precondition for diplomatic ties -- including with the U.S. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, has angered China since her 2016 election by refusing to endorse the one-China framework while offering to sign a U.S. free-trade deal and buy more advanced American arms.
“Mainland China has repeatedly resorted to negative measures to force Taiwan to accept its one-sided design for the development of cross-strait relations, ignoring Taiwan’s dignity and the public’s hopes, and refusing to improve relations through good-tempered communications,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Office said in a statement Tuesday. The office called on mainland leaders “to escape from thinking based on strength and intimidation and respect the realities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”
After reaffirming U.S. support for the one-China principle last year, Trump has in recent months signaled a tougher line against Beijing and on Friday signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law. The act encourages visits between the U.S. and Taiwan "at all levels," specifically citing "cabinet-level national security officials." Chinese officials have said the act "seriously contravenes" the understanding between China and the U.S. over Taiwan.
“The recent ‘Taiwan Travel Act’ is a mine that America buried and one day it will blow up," said Xu Shijun, former director of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “China will not sit back and take such actions. The U.S. should definitely integrate the message that Xi’s sent this morning into its decision making process.”
Hours after Xi’s speech, Taiwan announced that Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong was scheduled to arrive this week for a three-day visit. U.S. officials of a similar level have visited the island before.
Although Xi didn’t directly reference rising tensions with the U.S., including Trump’s threats of tariffs and other trade actions, he acknowledged challenges overseas.
“The situation at home and abroad is undergoing profound and complex changes, and it is an important period of strategic opportunities for China’s development,” Xi said.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
With assistance from Keith Zhai, Peter Martin, Dandan Li