IN a strong call for unity, China’s President Xi Jinping said all Chinese people must remain cohesive amid political turmoil in the semiautonomous region of Hong Kong and rising independence sentiment in self-governing Taiwan.
Xi spoke Friday on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen, China’s first president and the godfather of Chinese nationalism, who continues to command broad respect within China and the Chinese diaspora.
Speaking to an audience at the colossal Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, Xi again called on Taiwan’s leaders to endorse the principle that the island and mainland China are parts of a single Chinese nation. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has refused to make such a concession.
“Sun Yat-sen unequivocally opposed any remarks or actions that attempted to split the country or the nation,” said Xi, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission, as quoted by Xinhua.
In quoting Sun, Xi said a disunited people would suffer but the entire country would benefit if the people were united.
“Any attempt to split the country will be resolutely opposed by all Chinese people,” Xi said, vowing “we’ll never allow anyone, any organization or political Party to rip out any part of our territory at any time or in any form.”
Beijing has also registered alarm over anti-China sentiment in Hong Kong among newly elected members of its legislative council.
On Tuesday, the U.S. expressed disappointment over China’s intervention in a political dispute in Hong Kong by barring two separatist lawmakers from office.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Monday urged the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to refrain from actions that “undermine confidence” in the so-called one-country two-systems principle — under which Hong Kong retains a separate economic and political system from the communist-governed Chinese mainland until 2047.
Toner said an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and government by rule of law “is essential for Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity.”
The dispute centers on two newly elected pro-independence lawmakers who altered their oaths of office. China’s top legislative panel ruled Monday that those who advocate Hong Kong independence are disqualified from becoming lawmakers.
A political science expert in Hong Kong says China’s move to intervene in the political dispute amounted to the “strongest message yet” from China that Beijing would not tolerate serious talk of independence.
Linda Li, political science professor at City University of Hong Kong, said Monday the vast majority of Hong Kong residents do not favor breaking away from China but are instead frustrated with governance issues that have stretched on for years.
Li says if Beijing retains a relatively restrained tone in the next few days and leaves the matter in the hands of Hong Kong’s authorities, “it would help cool down the tension.”
She urged the government to “limit the damage” and refrain from prosecuting the two lawmakers.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press