Xi Jinping
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Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping vows to fight separatism and any attempts to split territory from China

President’s comments come amid strained ties with Taiwan and row in Hong Kong over localist legislators’ oaths to take office

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 2:30am

President Xi Jinping drew a line on Friday against separatism in any form, amid strained ties with Taiwan and Beijing’s moves to quash independence sentiment in Hong Kong.

Xi spoke at a commemoration at the Great Hall of the People to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen, who oversaw the end of millennia of imperial rule in China.

His strong call for national unity came amid growing calls for independence in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where a row over localist legislators’ oath taking has escalated over recent weeks.

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Xi held up Sun as a model for defending national unity and used the occasion to underscore China’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and stamp out any attempt to divide the nation.

“All activities that intend to divide the country will certainly be firmly opposed by all Chinese people,” Xi said. “We will never allow any one, any organisation, any party to split off any tract of territory from China anytime, or in any way.”

The comments came after Beijing effectively barred two elected localist lawmakers in Hong Kong from taking office through a unilateral interpretation of the Basic Law by the country’s top legislature, which critics said was a severe blow to the city’s judicial independence.

Following the release of the interpretation on Monday, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Katherine Chang said Beijing had violated its promise to “let Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy”.

The mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office responded the next day, asking Taiwan to stop meddling in the issue.

Cross-strait ties have been strained since the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took power in May, replacing the Beijing friendly Kuomintang founded by Sun.

Xi reiterated Beijing’s long-held stance that the “1992 consensus” was the political foundation of cross-strait relations with Taiwan and urged people on both sides of the strait to oppose pro-independence forces on the island.

The consensus is a tacit understanding reached with Taiwan’s then Kuomingtang government that there is only “one China”, but it leaves both sides to interpret what it constitutes.

“We are willing to associate with any party, group or individual in Taiwan that recognises the 1992 consensus and agrees that the mainland and Taiwan belong to one China, no matter what their former ideas were in the past,” Xi said.

“It is our solemn promise to history and the people to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and prevent the historical tragedy of a divided nation to repeat itself,” he said.

Sun, who founded the Republic of China (ROC) after the Qing Dynasty was toppled in the 1911 revolution, is also revered in Taiwan, which the mainland considers a breakaway province which has split from the rest of the nation.

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Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng called for Beijing to take the initiative in solving political differences and not set political preconditions for cross-strait relations.

“Especially on the anniversary of the 150th birthday of Sun, the founder of the ROC, Beijing should face squarely the reality of the existence of the ROC and the Taiwan people’s persistence for democracy,” Chiu said.

Analysts said Xi’s comments were a strong message directed at the DPP, but they also targeted all independence sentiment and activities beyond Taiwan, including Hong Kong.

“Xi emphasised the 1992 consensus, especially anti-Taiwan independence in his talk … but I could sense he was [voicing] opposition to all forms of activities intended to divide the nation, including independence calls in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong,” said Chang Ling-chen, an honorary professor at National Taiwan University, who was invited to join the commemoration in Beijing.

Tang Shao-cheng, a political scientist from National Chengchi University in Taipei, said if the DPP refused to give a goodwill response to the mainland, Beijing might further tighten its policies towards the island, such as limiting the number of mainland tourists and set barriers for Taiwan in its international dealings.

The 150th anniversary of Sun’s birth is on Saturday, but commemorations were held in Beijing a day early.

Hong Kong is to hold an official ceremony at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park on Saturday morning to commemorate the occasion.