China Premier Li Qiang States Resolve to Integrate Taiwan; Does Not Refer to ‘Peaceful Unification’ in Official Report

Ichiro Ohara / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivers his address during the opening session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Tuesday.

BEIJING / TAIPEI — Chinese Premier Li Qiang has expressed his determination to unify China and Taiwan and asserted that the government would “uphold the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation,” in the Report on the Work of the Government.

Li on Tuesday reinforced China’s hard-line stance against Taiwan ahead of the May inauguration of the government of current Vice President Lai Ching-te, whom China views as an enemy.

The phrase “the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation” was not in last year’s report by Li Qiang’s predecessor Li Keqiang, and more clearly indicates China’s position of not tolerating any obstacles to unification. The current premier also did not use the words “peaceful unification” that appeared in last year’s report.

“We will improve the wellbeing of Chinese people on both sides so that together, we can realize the glorious cause of national rejuvenation,” Li Qiang said, drawing loud applause from the audience.

For the first time in three years, a policy of “advancing integrated cross-Strait development” on the basis of “peaceful development” between China and Taiwan was indicated as a process toward unification.

Last September, the Communist Party announced the creation of a model district in Fujian Province for integrated development with Taiwan. For the time being, it is believed that the Communist Party will use the idea of “integrated development” to support the Kuomintang, the Taiwan opposition party pursuing a conciliatory policy toward China, help Taiwanese business leaders and divide public opinion in Taiwan.

As has been the case in previous years, the Report on the Work of the Government included adherence to “the 1992 Consensus,” in which China and Taiwan are said to have agreed on the “one-China principle.” The report thereby reiterated the idea that acceptance of the consensus is a precondition for China-Taiwanese exchanges.

Lai does not recognize the consensus. China has been closing the window for dialogue with the current Tsai Ing-wen government, and is likely to continue to do so after Lai assumes the presidency.

China continues to exert pressure on Taiwan. In mid-February, a Chinese fishing boat capsized in waters around Taiwan’s remote Kinmen islands while attempting to evade a crackdown by Taiwanese authorities, and two people on board drowned. As a countermeasure, China has stepped up patrols around Kinmen islands.

However, China’s biggest concern is to counter the slowing economy, and there is a prevailing view in Taiwan that China is not in a position to rush unification. Some Taiwanese media sources believe that China is satisfied with the current situation as long as Taiwan does not move toward independence.

Under the surface, the two sides are studying each other. On Feb. 25, a senior official in charge of China in Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party held an unusual online exchange with a Chinese expert on Taiwan-China relations. The Taiwan side stated that Taiwan is practically sovereign and there is no need to declare independence, and conveyed its readiness to engage in dialogue with China.

China is watching what Lai will say in his inaugural address, and it is believed that the content of his speech will determine China’s stance toward Taiwan over the next four years.