(Bloomberg) -- Beijing’s growing political problems in Taiwan were laid bare Thursday, as the island’s two main presidential contenders ruled out any move toward unification.
First, President Tsai Ing-wen, who has long been an outspoken critic of Beijing, used her annual National Day address to issue a fresh rejection of China’s push to merge both sides under “one country, two systems.” Moments later, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu -- the candidate for the more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang -- appeared on Facebook Live to say he believed that unification was something for the “next generation” to resolve.
The twin speeches showed how far the debate has tipped against China as Beijing struggles to suppress increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in nearby Hong Kong. The former British colony serves as a cautionary tale for the democratically run Taiwan, which Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes Beijing will one day govern under a similar “one country, two systems” framework.
Tsai, who less than a year ago seemed destined to be a one-term president, has surged ahead in the polls while making almost daily gestures of support for Hong Kong protesters. Meanwhile, Han, who once referred to China and Taiwan as partners in an “arranged marriage” who had fallen “madly in love,” has distanced himself from Beijing.
‘More Powerful and Peaceful’
“Taiwan lacks conditions for either unification with or independence from mainland China,” Han said Thursday. “Our generation has no right to choose for next generation. Our generation’s responsibilities are trying hard to create conditions for Taiwan to be more powerful and peaceful.”
The remark was especially pointed because Xi has previously said that the political impasse between the two sides “cannot be passed on from generation to generation.” In a high-profile speech earlier this year, Xi reaffirmed his support for the “one country” concept, suggesting that China and Taiwan enter into “in-depth democratic consultations” to work toward unification.
China and Taiwan have been governed separately since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government fled to Taipei more than 70 years ago during a civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists. China considers Taiwan part of its territory and hasn’t ruled out military force to assert control over it.
Lured by China’s Cash, Tiny Pacific Islands Give Up on Taiwan
Tsai -- who hails from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party -- has angered China by refusing to accept the so-called 1992 consensus that both sides belong to “one China.” She has instead courted U.S. support and cast Taiwan as a stronghold of liberal democratic values on China’s doorstep, a theme she returned to Thursday.
“When democracy is under threat, we need to stand up to guard it,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan would have “no space to survive” if it accepted China’s governing model. “Rejecting ‘one country, two systems’ is the biggest consensus among the 23 million people of Taiwan regardless of party affiliation or position.”
The Republic of China’s lower-key National Day events in Taipei offered a stark contrast with the military might Xi put on display while marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic last week in Beijing. Taiwan’s much smaller military played only a supporting role in the events, which included new immigrants singing the national anthem.
The Taipei events also highlighted the U.S.’s expanding support for Taiwan, with Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, becoming the first U.S. senator to attend such a celebration in 35 years. Meanwhile, Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, and Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also wrote a commentary Tuesday in the Hill newspaper, calling for strengthening Taiwan-U.S. relations to counter rising Chinese influence in the Pacific.
Still, Han did provide Beijing fresh support for the “1992 consensus,” which underpinned a series of deals between the Communist Party and Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou. But Han reaffirmed his commitment to defend Taiwan militarily if needed.
“Taiwan is not an appendage to anyone -- we won’t allow anyone to hurt Taiwan,” Han said. “If necessary, Taiwan citizens and myself will definitely take up the gun to guard our sovereignty.”
(A previous version of this story was corrected to show that Senator Cory Gardner authored commentary with Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.)
--With assistance from Samson Ellis and Dandan Li.
To contact the reporter on this story: Miaojung Lin in Taipei at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at email@example.com, Colin Keatinge
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