Beijing has removed references to “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan from its annual work report, signalling the country will take a stronger stance against the island territory.
The past six work reports since President Xi Jinping took power in 2013 have signalled that any attempt to reunify Taiwan and China would be “peaceful”.
RELATED: China prepares army for war
But the latest report from Premier Li Keqiang took a different tone, saying: “We will adhere to the major principles and policies on work related to Taiwan and resolutely oppose and deter any separatist activities seeking ‘Taiwan independence’.”
“We will improve institutional arrangements, policies, and measures to encourage exchanges and co-operation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, further cross-strait integrated development, and protect the wellbeing of our compatriots in Taiwan,” the report said.
“We will encourage them to join us in opposing ‘Taiwan independence’ and promoting China’s reunification.
The final sentence removes the two words, only saying: “With these efforts, we can surely create a beautiful future for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
The news was met with alarm around the world. Reuters described it as “an apparent policy shift”, while the Wall Street Journal said the Chinese government was “breaking with nearly three decades of precedent in a sign that it is taking a tougher tack”.
The Chinese government addressed the omission in a subsequent state media report, saying it caused “Taiwan separatists and foreign forces” to “become panicked and nervous”.
“This new narrative has sent a clear signal that the mainland will be more determined and pragmatic in diversifying its approach to realising its obligatory goal of reunifying Taiwan,” a report in the Global Times newspaper said, adding that Tsai Ing Wen’s Democratic Progressive Party had “chosen to refuse the sincerity of a peaceful solution repeatedly encouraged by the mainland”.
“However, this adjustment doesn’t mean the mainland has abandoned a peaceful approach to realise national reunification, and the mainland government and society still believe that peaceful reunification is the best, most harmless and cost-effective approach,” the report added, referencing a China-based Taiwan expert.
RELATED: China’s warning to Australia
Taiwan, in turn, has pledged its support to Hong Kong, following a resurgence in protests against newly proposed national security legislation from Beijing.
Ms Tsai said Taiwan would provide “necessary assistance” to the semi-autonomous territory, after Hong Kong police and thousands of protesters clashed over the weekend.
The Taiwanese leader said the proposed legislation was a serious threat to Hong Kong’s unique civil liberties and independence, adding that bullets and repression were not the way to deal with it.
“In face of the changing situation, the international community has proactively stretched out a helping hand to Hong Kong’s people,” she wrote.
She said Taiwan will “even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong’s people with necessary assistance”.
China has repeatedly denounced Taiwan’s government for supporting the protesters, and accused activists in both places of colluding to plot independence.
China believes Ms Tsai is a “separatist” who wants to declare the island’s formal independence, while Ms Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country.
Taiwan offers special treatment to Hong Kong, including an investment-immigration program that has attracted tens of thousands of immigrants from the city.
However, an official warned that Beijing may close Taiwan’s de facto consulate in the city in retaliation, and that any change to the act could choke Taiwan-Hong Kong trade.
The United States is also considering whether to maintain Hong Kong’s special status in US law, which has helped the city maintain its position as a global financial centre.
– with wires