Chinese President Xi Jinping has formally turned his attention to China’s decades-long quest to win control of Taiwan. In his first major speech about the disputed island, he said, “That the two sides of the strait are still not fully unified is a wound to the Chinese nation left by history.” He made the comments in a speech to Chinese military officials and others gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan as a territory that should never have gained autonomy from China. The two countries have been governed separately since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Kuomintang forces defeated by Mao Zedong’s revolutionary armies retreated to the island and established their own government.
Taiwan is self-governed and de facto independent, but it has never formally declared independence from the mainland. Washington technically does not recognize Taiwanese sovereignty from China, but there is an agreement in place that requires that the United States protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression, if necessary.
Under China’s plan, Taiwan would be governed under the same “one country, two systems” framework used in Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Under that framework, Hong Kong has enjoyed legal autonomy and the protection of rights including freedom of assembly and free speech not given to citizens in the rest of China. However, Hong Kong’s freedoms in publishing, news media and pro-democratic activism have been in rapid retreat in recent years, something the residents of the self-ruled island have taken note of.
In a speech, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen affirmed that Taiwan’s population of 23 million wanted to maintain their self-rule. According to a survey published last August, only 3 percent of Taiwanese respondents said they supported unification. An additional 12.5 percent reportedly preferred the status quo and eventual reunification.