Virtually no section of the electorate in Taiwan would find “one country, two systems” an attractive goal, said Jonathan Sullivan, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham in Britain who studies the island’s politics. “Taiwan is not a colony à la Hong Kong, and it has everything to lose and nothing to gain from agreeing to it,” Professor Sullivan said.
Even so, Mr. Xi had political motives to show that he was working to absorb Taiwan, Professor Sullivan said. “Having unification as a national aspiration is incredibly useful for the Chinese Communist Party, which stakes its legitimacy on economic growth and nationalism,” he said. “The former is becoming more difficult to deliver, and so the latter becomes more important.”
Few experts believe that Mr. Xi’s speech augured an eruption of conflict over Taiwan. But tensions could rise, especially as his speech jarred so much with comments from Ms. Tsai.
Taiwan and China have been at loggerheads, sometimes close to full-scale war, since 1949, when Kuomintang forces defeated by Mao Zedong’s revolutionary armies retreated to the island. But Beijing’s fears that Taiwan could embrace full independence have grown only since the 1990s, when the island moved to democratic elections that brought to life parties that rejected Chinese identity.
“Tsai and Xi are sticking to their positions,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There is little reason to expect any improvement in cross-strait ties as a result of these major statements. But there is also little reason to expect a crisis.”
Mr. Xi’s speech marked 40 years since China set out a new approach to unification with Taiwan soon after the United States shifted diplomatic ties from the Republic of China — the name for the government on the island — to the communist government in Beijing.
But in a speech on Monday, Ms. Tsai said Taiwan’s 23 million people wanted to maintain their self-rule, and she warned against reading the recent setbacks of her Democratic Progressive Party as a rejection of that principle. In November, the opposition Kuomintang, which favors closer ties with China, won mayoralties in Taiwan’s three most populous cities.