‘One country, two systems’ still the best solution for Taiwan
- President Xi Jinping marked the 40th anniversary of the ‘message to compatriots’ in a relatively friendly speech that acknowledged the need to engage more with the island and stressed peaceful unification
Beijing has begun a year of anniversaries of very different historical events that helped shape today’s China, from the 70th of its founding to the 30th of the June 4 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. One that is watched carefully for policy nuances is the “message to [Taiwan] compatriots” that led to a thaw in cross-strait relations. President Xi Jinping’s speech yesterday for its 40th anniversary bears scrutiny.
Despite a chill in relations over Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s refusal to acknowledge the one-China principle, Xi’s tone was relatively friendly. The speech upheld “one country, two systems” – a formula for autonomy under sovereignty first suggested for Taiwan before it was adopted in Hong Kong and Macau – as still the best solution to the island problem. For China it involves no compromise of sovereignty, addresses Taiwan’s part in China’s humiliation at the hands of foreign powers and serves the political goal of the great revival of Chinese civilisation. But while Taiwan remained an essential part of the China dream, Xi said reunification under one country, two systems would not compromise the island’s current political system and freedoms. He did address four “musts” outlined in Tsai’s new year address, including respecting the choice of people in Taiwan to live in a democratic system. He acknowledged the need to increase engagement, and said talk of using military force to achieve reunification was targeted at interference by third parties and peaceful unification remained the best solution.
The softer tone does not signal any relaxation of determination to reclaim Taiwan. It reflects the political reality, after a lot of consultation and debate, that one country, two systems is a viable option for peaceful reunification, while a military solution not only would come at a high cost but would make Taiwan hard to govern. To win the hearts and minds of Taiwan people Beijing needs to build trust that it will respect their freedoms. It’s open to debate whether the implementation of one country, two systems in Hong Kong so far has properly guaranteed the many freedoms people enjoy, but it cannot be a bad thing for this city if Beijing persuades Taipei to seriously consider the concept. Hong Kong would have a role to play in showing that it met Taiwan people’s concerns. Over a period of time, the whole world would be watching Beijing’s respect for two systems as well as the principle of one country. The Taiwan issue is critical not just because it is one of the world’s most potential flashpoints. The fact that Xi tied it to the China dream shows that it goes beyond territorial integrity to the political legitimacy of the regime. It is unrealistic to expect Beijing to compromise. But, despite debate in Hong Kong about one country, two systems, it is the best solution for Taiwan. The alternative is bad for everyone.