Though many Taiwanese do not self-identify as being Chinese and instead support a separate Taiwanese identity, many are reluctant to push for bold moves in the direction of independence that might invite a military response from China. That’s prompted Taiwanese to assert their own identity in the international arena in other ways, such as a referendum held in November on whether Taiwan should be able to compete in the 2020 Olympics as “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei”—a motion that was ultimately defeated.

For many China watchers, little of the content in Xi’s speech was new, particularly as Beijing has stepped up its hostile rhetoric against Taiwan since president Tsai Ing-wen, whose party espouses pro-independence views, came to power in 2016. The timing of the speech, however, comes at a particularly interesting time when Tsai may be seen to be in a position of weakness, after her ruling party suffered devastating losses at the hands of the more China-friendly opposition Kuomintang party in local elections in November. Many saw that outcome as a boon to Beijing’s ambitions. Tsai had warned ahead of the elections that China was spreading fake news to interfere in the process.

Xi didn’t specifically refer to the recent elections in Taiwan, but boasted that China had achieved a series of “series of victories” in the fight against Taiwan independence.

In her own New Year’s Day address, Tsai said that the election results did not mean that Taiwanese people were willing to abandon their sovereignty, and once again stressed the need for Taiwan to remain vigilant about disinformation from China.

With more cities and counties now under Kuomintang control, economic, cultural, and political exchanges between Taiwan and China are expected to increase this year, particularly as the number of tourists from mainland China to Taiwan has plummeted since 2016—though even with China’s restrictions on tourism, Taiwan still managed to post a record number of arrivals in 2018.

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