China’s Xi warns Taiwan over independence ahead of election

Taiwan’s president has urged Beijing to respect the outcome of January 13th vote

Taiwan’s president has urged Beijing to respect the outcome of this month’s elections, declaring that the self-governing island’s future must be determined by its people alone.

Speaking hours after President Xi Jinping of China said in a new year’s message that reunification with the mainland was inevitable, Tsai Ing-wen said the most important principle was democracy.

“This is taking the joint will of Taiwan’s people to make a decision. After all, we are a democratic country,” she said.

Ms Tsai’s vice-president, Lai Ching-te, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the front-runner to succeed her after an election on January 13th. Polls at the weekend put him between four and 11 points ahead of Hou Yu-ih from main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT) with Ko Wen-je from the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) in third place.


Beijing has refused to engage with Ms Tsai and Mr Lai, both of whom it has condemned as separatists committed to Taiwanese independence. Although Mr Lai once advocated independence, he no longer wants to declare Taiwan an independent state and he explained during a candidates’ debate on Saturday how he now defines the concept.

“The so-called Taiwan independence basically means Taiwan’s sovereignty and independence belong to its 23 million people, not China,” he said.

“The Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other. This is the definition of Taiwan independence.”

Taiwan became a self-governing territory in 1949 after Mao Zedong’s Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Republic of China forces to the island. Both claimed to be the legitimate government of the whole of China and the United States and other western governments recognised Chiang’s claim rather than Mao’s for 30 years.

In 1979, after Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with Mao, the US established diplomatic relations with Beijing and cut its diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In a message to President Joe Biden on the 45th anniversary of their diplomatic ties on Monday, Mr Xi said China and the US should strive for peaceful coexistence.

Mr Lai has promised to follow Ms Tsai’s path of deepening relations with Washington and building up Taiwan’s military defences. Mr Hou has said he will pursue a middle path, ruling out a formal declaration of independence for Taiwan but also rejecting Beijing’s formula of “One Country, Two Systems” for reunification with the mainland.

Mr Ko said during Saturday’s debate that the two main parties had spent 30 years arguing over something they could do nothing about, adding that 90 per cent of Taiwan’s people favoured maintaining the status quo.

“It’s impossible for Taiwan to declare unification or independence currently,” he said.

Beijing has warned that a victory for Mr Lai could set Taiwan on a path to war, but Ms Tsai, who has to step down this year after eight years in office, on Monday defended her military build-up.

“Everyone’s home has locks on them, which is not to provoke the neighbours next door but to make yourself safer. This is the same for the doors to the country. Taiwan’s people want peace, but we want peace with dignity,” she said.

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Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times