China's Xi Jinping says Taiwan must be unified with mainland

China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcome ceremony for German President Frank Walter Steinmeier in Beijing

Taiwan independence would lead to "disaster", Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, pledging efforts for peaceful "reunification" with the self-ruled island but warning China would not renounce the use of force. China said that year it had given the former British local autonomy.

Xi's Wednesday address was notable for what it did not say: Gone was the bluster of his March 2018 speech, in which he said "not a single inch of our land" would be ceded from China and attempts to "split" China would be "punished by history".

Taiwan's leader has rejected the Chinese president's call for unification under a "one country, two systems" approach.

China, however, is now pushing for new changes in Taiwan.

Although President Xi said in his speech that unification with Taiwan through force is a possibility, Ding believes it is unlikely that Beijing would send troops to occupy Taiwan. "We are willing to use the greatest sincerity and expend the greatest hard work to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification", Xi said.

A woman walks past a television in New Taipei City showing China's leader Xi Jinping making a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of a message sent to Taiwan in 1979.

She again reiterated her "four musts" proposal for cross-strait ties: China must recognize the existence of the Republic of China, respect the democracy and freedom that Taiwan's 23 million people hold dear, resolve cross-strait differences in a peaceful and equitable manner, and engage in negotiations with the government of Taiwan or an institution with a mandate from the government. "It must also be that only organizations authorized by the two governments can sit down for talks". She, however, agreed to start a dialogue with Beijing as an exchange between two sovereign states.

Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016. In the previous year or so, the Communist government has increased its pressure on multinational companies to refer to Taiwan as a part of China.

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Ding Shuh-fan, an global relations expert at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, told DW it is the first time a Chinese president has laid out concrete proposals regarding the "one country, two systems" model.

Chiang only relaxed that in 1987, allowing people in Taiwan to visit China for family reunions.

In Hong Kong, that has meant a more muscular effort to impose Chinese will, including by seizing people wanted by authorities in Beijing. "Since Hong Kong was returned to China, its freedom and democracy have faced a lot of limitations".

The address was also laced with threats of military force and warnings aimed at the Trump administration, which has shown greater willingness to show support for Taipei by selling arms and dispatching USA warships to nearby waters.

She stressed that Taiwan has been fulfilling its responsibility in maintaining regional stability for the past two years but has in return received threats from Beijing.

Beijing has also rolled out more extensive policies to court the island's business community and ordinary Taiwanese, vowing in February to give Taiwanese "equal status" on the mainland in areas ranging from business access to social benefits.

"I can feel that Xi is desperate to get some quick results on Taiwan", Ding said.

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