After a week of heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait, China’s president, Xi Jinping, has vowed to achieve “reunification” with Taiwan through peaceful means, the Guardian reported.

Taiwan quickly responded by calling on Beijing to stop its “coercion,” emphasizing that only Taiwan’s people could decide their future.

Taiwan, which is democratically run, is regarded by Beijing as a breakaway province. It has previously pledged to take it, by force if necessary. Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, has stated that the island of 24 million people is already a sovereign nation with no need to declare independence and no desire for conflict.

Tensions in Taiwan Strait

Tensions have been running high across the Taiwan Strait in recent weeks. For example, in the first four days of October, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent nearly 150 planes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Chinese officials and state-run media have characterized such actions as a show of strength, but many Western governments have condemned the latest displays of force as acts of intimidation and aggression.

Washington has stated that it is “deeply concerned” about China’s actions that jeopardize cross-strait peace. “When we see the kinds of activities that are fundamentally destabilizing, we are going to stand up and speak out, both privately and publicly,” said Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, this week.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that about two dozen US special forces soldiers and an unspecified number of marines have been training Taiwanese forces, indicating the extent of the US involvement in the region’s tensions. According to the report, the Trump administration initially sent trainers to Taiwan, but their presence was not reported until now.

Xi Jinping: Reunification through a peaceful manner

In this context, Xi’s speech on Saturday has been closely scrutinized. Xi said in a speech at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that the Chinese people had a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.

“Taiwan’s independence separatism is the biggest obstacle to achieving the reunification of the motherland, and the most serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation,” he said the day before the anniversary of the revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911. Taiwan marks 10 October, when the revolution began, as its national day.

Xi said “reunification through a peaceful manner is the most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots”, but added that China would protect its sovereignty and unity.

“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said. “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.”

He added: “The Taiwan question is purely an internal matter for China, one which brooks no external interference.”

Softer tone?

According to analysts, Xi’s speech struck a slightly softer tone than his previous major speech that mentioned Taiwan in July, in which he vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal independence.

“It’s actually relatively moderate – even mundane – in the section talking about Taiwan,” said George Yin, of Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. “Although the current situation looks tense, Xi does not ultimately want to see it out of control across the Taiwan Strait, especially after this week’s meeting between Jake Sullivan and Xi’s top foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi.”

He added: “All sides – China, Taiwan and the US – understand that unnecessary accident is not in anyone’s interest, after all.”

In response, Taiwan’s presidential office stated that Taiwan was a sovereign independent country, not a province of the People’s Republic of China, and that it had categorically rejected China’s offer of “one country, two systems” to govern the island. “The future of the nation is in the hands of the Taiwanese people,” it said.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council issued a separate statement urging Beijing to “abandon its provocative steps of intrusion, harassment, and destruction” and return to talks.

From the 1st of October, China’s airforce conducted four consecutive days of incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone, involving close to 150 aircraft.

Su Tseng-chang, Taiwan’s premier, stated shortly before Xi that China had been “flexing its muscles” and causing regional tensions.

“This is why countries that believe in freedom, democracy and human rights, and based on shared values, are all working together and have repeatedly warned that China should not invade Taiwan,” Su said.