Bullish China Vows Continued Push for Taiwan 'Unification' in 2021

Beijing will continue to actively push for Taiwan's "unification" with China in 2021 despite a year of "unprecedented conflict," its Taiwan Affairs Office said Wednesday.

Hinting at the United States and the administration of President Donald Trump in particular, office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian said Beijing had successfully deterred "external forces" seeking to promote "Taiwan secessionism" in this year.

At the regular press briefing, she revealed that bilateral trade across the Taiwan Strait for the year until November was $235 billion, a 13.8 percent increase despite a debilitating pandemic that halted global supply chains in the first quarter.

Exports to Taiwan accounted for $53.9 billion, while China imported a surplus of $181 billion, Zhu said, adding that cross-strait economic ties were expected to increase in 2021.

The Taiwan Affairs Office was established under China's State Council in 1988 in order to shape its Taiwan policies. Taipei's equivalent Mainland Affairs Council was founded the same year.

Zhu said relations between Beijing and Taipei faced "unprecedented conflict" and "severe challenges" in 2020. Her office has regularly blamed Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen and the Democratic Progressive Party which she chairs for the breakdown in relations.

China would continue to counter Taiwan's "independence" movement next year, said Zhu. Beijing will "actively pursue peaceful cross-strait relations and development," with the aim of allowing both sides to "join hands in the unification of the motherland," she added.

Following a period of growing cultural and economic exchange between China and the island nation, Beijing's relationship with Taipei began to worsen with the election of Tsai in 2016 and her resounding re-election victory in January this year.

This year, as support for her government grew and Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang party saw record low approval ratings, Tsai also received backing from the Trump administration in the form of multibillion dollar arms sales.

Her New Southbound Policy to shift Taiwan away from overreliance on the Chinese market resulted in cross-strait relations reaching a new low in 2020, which also witnessed the highest-level visits by U.S. cabinet officials for over four decades.

There is currently no dialog between Taipei and Beijing, with China signaling its claims over Taiwan by flying People's Liberation Army warplanes toward the island on a near-daily basis. The democracy of 23.5 million people responds by sending interceptor jets from its vastly outnumbered air force.

Both governments recognize that re-establishing cross-strait communication is key to a peace in the Taiwan Strait, but neither Tsai nor her Chinese counterparts can agree on a starting point.

Zhu, of the Taiwan Affairs Office, said Beijing has always been open to talks under the precondition that Tsai recognizes the "one China principle" and the "1992 Consensus."

Tsai's government has rejected both; instead, Taiwan's first female leader advocates for the "status quo"—a continuation of a political ambiguity in which Taiwan, a de facto state, neither accepts China's claims, nor feels the need to formally declare independence.

On Sunday, President Trump signed his government's $2.3 trillion spending bill. It included provisions for the Taiwan Assurance Act, which seeks to progress U.S.-Taiwan relations with further defensive arms sales and by supporting Taipei's meaningful participation in global bodies such as the United Nations and World Health Assembly.

Zhu has repeatedly criticized President Tsai for "plotting independence" with the help of the U.S. government, and analysts say relations in the Taiwan Strait are unlikely to mend in 2021.

Last month, the Taiwan Affairs Office admitted China was creating a blacklist of "Taiwan secessionists," with commentators suggesting Tsai and other senior DPP officials were likely to be included.

At another November briefing, Zhu failed to rule out the drafting of a "national reunification law" to cement China's ambitions of one day capturing Taiwan.

Taipei, however, has presented Washington with further incentive to deepen ties with the Tsai administration.

Starting January 1, Taiwan will begin loosening import restrictions on U.S. beef and pork products. The decision—seen as highly controversial among the public—has long been a stumbling block to furthering trade relations with America.

Observers have described the policy as a gamble, but it could lead to Taiwan signing an unprecedented bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. during the tenure of President-elect Joe Biden.

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen Campaigns for Re-election
File photo: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images