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China softens Taiwan rhetoric as U.S. and Canadian warships sail through strait

China softens Taiwan rhetoric as U.S. and Canadian warships sail through strait

BEIJING — China is willing to make the utmost effort to strive for a peaceful “reunification” with Taiwan, a Chinese government spokesperson said on Wednesday, following weeks of military maneuvers and war games by Beijing near the self-ruling island.

The comments came a day after U.S. and Canadian warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait in their second joint transit in less than a year.

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told a news conference in Beijing ahead of next month’s once-in-five-years Communist Party congress that China was willing to make the greatest efforts to achieve peaceful “reunification” with the island democracy, which Beijing claims as its territory.

China has proposed a “one country, two systems” model for Taiwan, similar to the formula under which the former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Ma said Taiwan could have a “social system different from the mainland” that ensured its way of life was respected, including religious freedoms, but that was “under the precondition of ensuring national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

All mainstream Taiwanese political parties have rejected that proposal and it has almost no public support, according to opinion polls, especially after Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 after the city was rocked by sometimes violent anti-government and anti-China protests.

China has also never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, and in 2005 passed a law giving the country the legal basis for military action against Taiwan if it secedes or seems about to.

Taiwan’s government says that as the island has never been ruled by the People’s Republic of China, its sovereignty claims are void.

China has been carrying out drills near Taiwan since early last month, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, including firing missiles into waters near the island.

A U.S. Navy warship and a Canadian frigate made a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, the militaries of both nations said. It was the second transit in a month by a U.S. Navy ship, and the second jointly by the United States and Canada since October 2021.

“Cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Higgins and the Royal Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigate Vancouver made the transit through a corridor in the strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state, it added.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed the action.

“This operation though the Taiwan Strait is, even more, a concrete demonstration of the resolute opposition of democratic allies to China’s expansion attempts,” it said.

The Eastern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army said its forces monitored the ships and “warned them.”

“Theatre forces are always on high alert, resolutely counter all threats and provocations, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said in a statement, employing its usual phrasing for such responses.

The narrow Taiwan Strait has been a frequent source of military tension since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists, who established the People’s Republic of China.

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