Taiwanese people who recognize the sovereignty of their nation “would be classified as war criminals that must be punished if the Chinese mainland is forced to deal with the Taiwan question by force,” Lieutenant General He Lei of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) told reporters on Wednesday.
Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping opened the year with a speech directed to the government of Taiwan, a country Beijing considers a breakaway province, warning that he would not rule out the use of force to annex Taiwan and impose communist law.
Taiwan is a capitalist representative democracy, formally founded as the Republic of China following Mao Zedong’s defeat of the Nationalists on the mainland. Current President Tsai Ing-wen won the position on a campaign platform of confronting Chinese belligerence and safeguarding the nation’s institutions from mainland Chinese intrusion, just as Xi implemented policies to curb democracy in other autonomous regions such as Hong Kong and Macau. Unlike those areas, governed on a “one country, two systems” policy, Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state wholly independent from China. Beijing adheres to “One China,” a policy that makes it impossible for third-party countries to establish diplomatic relations with both Beijing and Taipei.
Lt. General He made his remarks on a hypothetical invasion of Taiwan while speaking at the State Council Information Office, according to the Chinese government-run Global Times newspaper.
“I believe that the ‘Taiwan-independence’ separatists have no capability or means to separate the island from the mainland even they have the nerve to do so, as China’s 1.3 billion people including the Taiwan compatriots will by no means tolerate it,” He insisted, adding that any “foreign forces” that would protect Taiwan from an invasion would face “the resolve, confidence, capability and means” of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Adding yet another clue that he meant to threaten the United States, the Global Times quotes He as warning that “some foreign forces” are attempting to serve as a “world police” to contain Chinese military belligerence, a plan he insisted would fail.
He’s claim that Taiwanese people “will by no means tolerate” their independence contradicts the results of a poll published Thursday in Taiwan finding that upwards of 80 percent of Taiwanese people reject the imposition of a “one country, two systems” policy like Hong Kong’s in their country. Xi recently suggested that policy as a potential solution to uniting Taiwan with China.
The policy has allowed China to slowly but surely take control of Hong Kong’s politics. Chinese officials have begun determining who gets to run in Hong Kong elections and imposing laws that make it difficult to criticize China in Hong Kong. The moves have triggered significant backlash, most recently the organization of a protest on New Year’s Day that attracted thousands.
The Taiwan survey, published by the Cross-Strait Policy Association, found that 80.9 percent of respondents rejected the plan, which would end the existence of the Republic of China. Another 68.5 percent appeared to reject the current “one China” principle, saying that it does not “have room” for the existence of the Republic of China.
In a speech last week, Xi Jinping announced that China would no longer tolerate Taiwan’s sovereignty in 2019, causing alarm.
“Reunification is a historical trend and it is the right path. Taiwan independence is an adverse current of history and is a dead end,” Xi asserted. “We make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures.”
Xi’s speech followed a difficult year domestically for his government, as not just repressed religious people and human rights advocates worked to expose Beijing’s crimes, but Maoist student activists, PLA veterans, and workers seeking to unionize began questioning Xi’s leadership, leading to their abuse and disappearance.
President Tsai responded to the speech by urging that, rather than Taiwan adopt China’s authoritarianism, China embrace Taiwan’s democratic ways.
“Democratic values are the values and way of life that Taiwanese cherish, and we call upon China to bravely move towards democracy,” Tsai said. “This is the only way they can truly understand Taiwanese people’s ideas and commitments.”
Tsai also urged Xi to “face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China” rather than continue to pretend that Taiwan was a province of China.
Tsai’s government announced on Thursday that it would schedule a series of military exercises to protect from a potential Chinese invasion, given that Xi had explicitly refused to deny that his regime was planning one. As Taiwan is an island, naval preparedness is key to protect from a Chinese takeover.
“We want to assure citizens that the military is constantly improving its combat preparedness and stands ready to fight for the survival of the Republic of China,” Major General Chen Chung-chi of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense told reporters on Thursday.