BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping, declaring that independence is not an option for Taiwan, urged both sides to reach an early consensus on unification and not leave the issue for future generations.
No one or no party can stop the trend toward unification, the Chinese leader said Wednesday in a policy speech devoted to Taiwan. He said independence for the self-governing island is against history and a dead end.
"We are willing to create a vast space for peaceful unification, but we will never leave any room for any sort of Taiwan independence separatist activities," he said.
Taiwan's leader rejected his call just hours later.
President Tsai Ing-wen said her island of 23 million people would never accept the "one country, two systems" approach proposed by Beijing.
"China must face the fact of the existence of Taiwan, Republic of China, and not deny the system of a democratic country that has been commonly built up by the Taiwanese people," she said.
Taiwan split from China in a civil war that brought the Communist Party to power in China in 1949. The rival Nationalists set up their own government on the island about 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the Chinese mainland.
Xi proposed talks between the two sides to work out "a systematic arrangement for the peaceful development of the cross-strait relationship."
Tsai said that Taiwan is willing to talk, but it must be with the approval of the Taiwanese people. She has irked Beijing by refusing to endorse the "one China" principle that designates Taiwan as a part of China.
"Deviating from the one China principle will result in tension and turbulence in cross-strait relations, harming the interests of the Taiwanese compatriots," Xi said.
He pledged that a one-country, two-systems framework would respect the Taiwanese social system and way of life and guarantee their property rights, religious beliefs and other rights.
"The political disputes that have existed for a long time ... affect the healthy and continuous development of the cross-strait relationship and cannot be passed from generation to generation," Xi said.
He warned against foreign interference in the issue, though he didn't mention the United States by name. People on both sides of the strait belong to the same family, he said, and family matters should be resolved by family members.
Xi said that China reserved the right to use force if necessary to counter interference by external forces and what he called an extremely small number of Taiwanese separatists.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.