"The goal remains a peaceful reunification," Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, speaking at Beijing's Great Hall of the People. However, the Chinese president stressed, he could not promise that military force would not be used. China reserves the option of taking "all necessary means" to achieve reunification with Taiwan, the leader asserted. He also noted that Beijing is ready for talks, albeit on the condition that Taiwanese authorities accept the "one China" principle.
The Chinese leader's speech grabbed global media attention. But what does it mean for China-Taiwan relations? What geopolitical consequences could it have? Xi said little new in terms of content. And no one is expecting China to soon follow up its words with deeds and launch military action against Taiwan.
The primary purpose of Xi's speech, said a Taiwanese analyst, is to send a message to the United States that China would not tolerate any interference from Washington in the Taiwan issue. China-US relations are undergoing a tense phase, and not just because of the recent trade frictions.
The relationship is being shaped by a more fundamental question: Who will dominate the world of tomorrow — be it in technology or geopolitics? From an American perspective, Taipei plays an important role in Washington's strategic competition with Beijing.
Xi's speech also gives us a hint about what we can expect from Beijing this year in terms of its Taiwan policy. China has already been ratcheting up pressure on Taiwan in recent months. Beijing, for instance, poached three of Taipei's diplomatic allies in 2018 alone; there are now just 17 countries that have formal relations with Taiwan. Last year, China also forced international airlines to change their websites and no longer list Taiwan as an independent country. In 2019, Beijing will likely further ramp up such pressure tactics on Taiwan.