China must be and will be reunified with Taiwan, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday (Jan 2) as he called for the two rivals to work together to realise the "historic task" of complete reunification.
"It is a historical conclusion drawn over 70 years of development of cross-strait relations, and a must for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era," Mr Xi said in a speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People to commemorate the 40th anniversary of "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan".
The Message was a policy document issued by the National People's Congress - China's Parliament - on Jan 1, 1979, the same day China and the United States formally established relations after Washington broke ties with Taiwan.
The Message first proposed ending military confrontation through dialogue and welcomed exchanges between the two sides, which has been separately governed since Chiang Kai-shek fled with defeated Nationalist forces to Taiwan in December 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists.
Up until 1979, China had conducted routine artillery bombardment of Taiwan-controlled offshore islands like Kinmen close to the mainland.
But no peace treaty or formal end to hostilities has been signed despite the deep business, cultural and personal links that have developed since.
In his speech on Wednesday, Mr Xi sent a warning to advocates of Taiwan's independence, who include supporters of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.
"It's a legal fact that both sides of the Strait belong to one China, and cannot be changed by anyone or any force," Mr Xi said.
Ms Tsai warned against continued threats from China in her New Year's Day address, signalling that she was not backing down despite her recent municipal election loss to Taiwan's more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang opposition. She faces a tough campaign for next year's presidential election.
Mr Xi, meanwhile, faces growing criticism within the party over his handling of foreign affairs - notably strained relations with Washington, whose moves to support Taiwan have drawn China's ire, reported Bloomberg.
Mr Xi reiterated in his speech that China will not give up the use of military force as an option to ensure Taiwan returns to the fold. Beijing "reserves the option of taking all necessary measures" against outside forces that interfere with peaceful reunification and against Taiwan independence separatist activities, he said.
But his speech was largely conciliatory. He called for efforts to foster wide-ranging "democratic consultation" between representatives from both sides and deepen integrated development across the Taiwan Strait, saying that "Chinese people should help each other".
He also pledged to further institutionalise cross-strait economic co-operation and to forge a common market, reported Xinhua news agency. Both sides should enhance the free flow of trade, connectivity in infrastructure, exchange of energy and resources, and shared industrial standards, Mr Xi was quoted as saying.
Unification would be done under a "one country, two systems" approach that would "safeguard the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots", and
Taiwan will be guaranteed lasting peace after reunification, Mr Xi said.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.