China is committed to “resolving the Taiwan question in the new era,” it said in its annual government report issued Saturday, using sharper wording than in previous such reports amid debate among foreign-policy experts over whether Beijing would attempt a takeover of the self-ruled island similar to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Beijing’s annual work report traditionally includes a couple of paragraphs declaring that the government will continue working toward the unification of Taiwan. This is the first year since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago that this section of the annual report includes a time frame — “in the new era” — although it’s unclear how long a period this means.
The stronger wording is in line with Beijing’s signals of impatience on Taiwan over the past few years, which have alarmed residents of the island. Xi said in 2019 that “we should not allow this problem to be passed down from one generation to the next.”
Huang Kwei-bo, associate professor of diplomacy at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, said the term “in the new era” was closely associated with Xi’s rule and has been showing up more often in various contexts.
Huang said Xi likely wants to send the message that he “is ready to deal with both old and new problems in the new era.”
Saturday’s report also repeated previous language on advancing “the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait” and opposing “separatist activities.”
After being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces in 1949, Chinese Nationalist troops fled to Taiwan and set up rule over the island. Beijing has declared since that it will unify Taiwan with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan has developed into one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies and progressive societies: For instance, it is one of the few societies in the world that has ever elected an unmarried woman as president.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and the reluctance of Western countries to send troops to defend it — has raised worries in Taiwan that Beijing might be emboldened to try a similar move. The catchphrase “Today Ukraine, Tomorrow Taiwan,” has circulated uneasily across the island.
Foreign-policy circles have been awash in discussions about whether Xi might follow Putin’s example and invade Taiwan. Some point out similar ambitions in both leaders to build their empires, unfazed by criticism from the West. But others cite notable differences, including Taiwan’s key role in global supply chains and the island’s location near key U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan.
China’s annual work report is also watched by the business sector for its economic growth target. This year it was set at around 5.5 percent, which would be the second-lowest rate of gross domestic product growth since the 1990s. (The lowest was 2020′s 2.3 percent GDP growth, as China went into lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic). China said its economy rebounded to 8.1 percent growth in 2021.
While the report, delivered by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, does not mention the war in Ukraine, it cites economic challenges in general, and says maintaining economic stability is the “top priority” this year. Li said tax cuts to businesses and construction projects are on the way.
“In the face of new downward pressure, the task of ensuring stable growth needs to occupy an even more prominent position,” Li said in the report.
Li also said one of the goals this year would be to control coronavirus infections in a “targeted” way, suggesting an approaching loosening of the draconian policies that have kept China’s coronavirus infection count close to zero, but have weighed on the economy and upended daily life.
“Occurrences of local cases must be handled in a scientific and targeted manner, and the normal order of work and life must be ensured,” Li said in the work report.
This year is a politically important one for Xi, who is largely expected to stay on as China’s leader for a third five-year term, disregarding the established practice of stepping aside after two terms.
Christian Shepherd contributed to this report.