China’s Xi claims ‘reunification’ with Taiwan is ‘inevitable’ as crucial election looms

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China CPC Central Committee, delivers an important speech as he chairs the criticism and self-criticism meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Beijing on December 22, 2023

Chinese leader Xi Jinping speaks earlier this month at a meeting of top Communist Party officials.Li Xueren/Xinhua/Getty ImagesHong KongCNN — 

The “reunification” of Taiwan with China is “inevitable,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping claimed in a speech Tuesday, reiterating Beijing’s long-held stance on the self-ruled island democracy ahead of a crucial election there next month.

“The realization of the complete reunification with the motherland is an inevitable course of development, is righteous and what the people want. The motherland must and will be reunified,” Xi said in an address marking the 130th anniversary of People’s Republic of China founder Mao Zedong’s birth.

The comments echo those previously made by Xi – one of China’s most powerful leaders since Mao – who has made taking control of Taiwan a cornerstone of his broader goal to “rejuvenate” China to a place of power and stature globally.

But they take on particular significance now, coming just weeks ahead of a critical presidential vote in Taiwan. There, political parties’ differing views on relations with China often make elections a litmus test for public sentiment on Beijing – and bring what Taiwan claims are a ramping up of influence operations on the island from China’s ruling Communist Party.

This year’s election follows years of heightened tensions, as Beijing has been ratcheting military, political and economic pressure on the island under the leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen, who is widely seen as cultivating Taiwan’s unofficial relationship with the United States.

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Tsai’s successor candidate for the Democratic Progressive Party, Vice President Lai Ching-te, is leading in the polls and is openly loathed by Chinese officials.

Lai is ahead of two other candidates – Hou Yu-ih from the Kuomintang party and Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party – who are seen as favoring closer relations with Beijing.

China’s Communist Party claims Taiwan as its own territory, despite never having controlled it. Chinese officials say they aim for peaceful “reunification” but have not ruled out using force to take control of the island.

“(We must) promote peaceful development of cross-strait ties, and resolutely prevent anyone from separating Taiwan from China in any way,” Xi said in his speech Tuesday, in an apparent veiled warning not just to those in Taipei but also in Washington.

Taiwan has emerged as one of the thorniest issues in US-China relations. During a summit in San Francisco last month, Xi told US President Joe Biden that China’s “reunification” with Taiwan is “unstoppable,” according to China’s Foreign Ministry.

People use mobile phones in Taipei City, Taiwan, 27 July 2020.

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In August 2022 when then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was hosted by Tsai during a visit to Taiwan, China surrounded the island for days with extensive military exercises and cut off high-level military communication with the US armed forces.

That channel was only reopened last week, following more than a year of careful diplomacy, including the Xi-Biden summit.

The US maintains an unofficial relationship with Taiwan and upholds a “One China” policy.

Under the policy, the US acknowledges China’s position that Taiwan is part of China, but Washington has never officially recognized Beijing’s claim to the island of 23 million. It is also bound by law to provide the democratic island with the means to defend itself.

Taipei and Beijing’s contested relationship goes back to 1949, when General Chiang Kai-shek fled with his nationalist forces to Taiwan after Mao’s Red Army gained the upper hand in the Chinese Civil War.

In his speech Tuesday, Xi called for China’s citizens to “never forget” Mao and the Communist Party’s “original aspiration and founding mission and … remain confident in our history and grasp historical initiative, so as to steadily advance the great cause of Chinese modernization.”

CNN’s Wayne Chang contributed to this report.

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