Tsai spoke after Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech earlier on Wednesday that nobody can change the fact that Taiwan is part of China, and that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should seek “reunification”.
Tsai also urged China to understand Taiwanese people’s thinking and needs.
“China must and will be united,” said Xi in reference to unification with Taiwan, AFP reports. “We make no promise to give up the use of force and reserve the option of all necessary means,” Xi added, not ruling out the use of military action against separatist efforts in Taiwan.
While Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of China’s sovereign territory despite the island’s breakaway from the mainland at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state with its own democratic political system. Taiwan has never formally declared independence from mainland China, but relations have come under pressure since the election of Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not accept the 1992 Consensus — a diplomatic agreement made between Taiwan and China acknowledging the existence of “one China.”
On Tuesday, Tsai declared that Beijing “must respect the insistence of 23 million people for freedom and democracy” and “must use peaceful and equal terms to handle our differences,” AFP reports. Merely a day later, Xi described his vision for unification via a “one country, two systems” approach to “safeguard the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots.” Over the past year, Beijing has ramped up efforts to isolate Taiwan, through pressuring international companies and airlines to list the territory as part of mainland China. Taiwan also has very few diplomatic allies with a series of defections to China taking place in 2018, and it is not granted membership or access to international organizations such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization.
In mid-term elections last year, the DPP suffered losses causing Tsai to resign as party leader, while the pro-China opposition rival Kuomintang made gains. Last week, the capital city of Taipei was beset by protesters demonstrating against high taxes, echoing France’s gilet jaunes, or “yellow jackets” movement.