Friday 08 Dec 2023
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(Nov 15): Chinese leader Xi Jinping called for boosting economic links with Taiwan just before heading to the US for talks with President Joe Biden, comments that contrast with some of the fiery rhetoric he’s used in the past about the island.

Xi urged more steps “to facilitate economic exchanges and cooperation and advance integrated development in all fields across the strait”, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Businesspeople should help “promote the peaceful and integrated development of cross-strait relations, and realise China’s reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, Xi said in a letter he sent to summit of entrepreneurs on Tuesday in Nanjing.

The remarks underscore recent efforts by China and the US to cool tensions in their relationship. They also come after Charles Q Brown Jr, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that he doubts Beijing plans to try to take control of Taiwan by force.

Taiwan’s status is one of the most contentious aspects of the China-US relationship. In a speech in 2021 marking the Communist Party’s 100-year anniversary, Xi called Beijing’s quest to gain control of Taiwan a “historic mission”. He said anyone who tries to bully his country “will surely break their heads on the steel Great Wall built with the blood and flesh of 1.4 billion of Chinese people”.

Biden has repeatedly said the US would defend Taiwan if China attacked, and his administration has made improving the democracy’s defences a priority.

Biden and Xi are scheduled to meet on Wednesday. The Chinese leader, who has ruled the Asian nation for more than a decade, will also attend a dinner with top US business executives.

Both China and the US have reasons to stabilise ties now after they sank to the lowest level in decades over issues such as trade, semiconductors, espionage and military encounters in the South China Sea. Xi is preoccupied with an economic recovery hobbled by a property crisis, and Biden is gearing up for a tough re-election campaign, while also dealing with the war in Ukraine and the Gaza crisis.

China has said in the past that it prefers to bring Taiwan under its control by peaceful means, but hasn’t ruled out using its military to enforce its claim. In March, former Chinese premier Li Keqiang said that his nation should “advance the process of China’s peaceful reunification”.

Earlier this year, Beijing rolled out a plan to foster closer economic integration between the island and Fujian, the coastal Chinese province that sits across the Taiwan Strait from the island of 23 million people. Beijing hails such measures as benefiting people on both sides, but they are largely ignored by decision-makers in Taipei.

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