Xi's Speech and Deteriorating Cross-Strait Relations

In a speech on cross-strait relations on January 2, China’s President Xi Jinping argued that Taiwan must be reunified with China under the framework of both the ‘1992 Consensus’ and Beijing’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy. In response, Taiwan’s President made a public speech, stating that Taiwan will not accept either principles. 

Xi’s speech marks a shift in China’s position towards unification with Taiwan. The ‘1992 Consensus’ deliberately remained vague on the type of political institutions to be installed in a unified China (inclusive of Taiwan). Xi, however, now specifies that the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ which currently exists in Hong Kong, will also be applied to Taiwan. While in Hong Kong existing political institutions have been allowed to operate under China’s control, Xi omitted reference to such institutions in a unified China featuring Taiwan.  

Xi’s speech and Tsai’s response only exacerbate cross-strait relations, which have steadily deteriorated since 2016, when Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power. It seems that both leaders utilized the speeches for domestic needs, rather than to lessen cross-strait tensions. According to The Diplomat, the purpose of Xi’s speech was to stir national emotions, and thus deflect Chinese citizens’ attention from recent problems, such as economic slowdown, closing down of many private companies, deteriorating relations with the U.S., and growing tension between rich and poor in China. As for Tsai, a rejection of Xi’s proposal caters to the preferences of DPP voters and a large number of Taiwanese citizens who are concerned about China.