China underscored its commitment on Saturday to its claim to Taiwan, telling world leaders that anyone who gets in the way of its determination to reunify with the self-governing island would be “crushed by the wheels of history”.
The language was forceful but, for Chinese leadership, well within the realm of normal.
“Only when China is fully reunified can there be true peace across the Taiwan Strait,” Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said at the UN General Assembly. He said Beijing would “take the most forceful steps to oppose external interference”.
China vehemently defends its claim on Taiwan, which separated from the mainland after a 1949 civil war and now functions with its own government.
A recent visit by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, markedly ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The language, while pointed, reflected China’s usual vehemence about the island; its claim rarely goes unmentioned in major international speeches.
Taiwan is a core issue of China policy, and Mr Wang’s appearance – instead of his boss, Chinese leader Xi Jinping – was a signal that the speech was not necessarily a major one.
“The PRC government is the sole government representing all of China,” Mr Wang said, referring to China’s formal name, the People’s Republic of China. “The one-China principle has become a basic norm in international relations.”
China exercises regular pressure worldwide on any entity – country, corporation, mapmaker – that even implies Taiwan might be a separate country.
Its muscle has isolated the island’s government, though a few UN members continue to have diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing.
On Saturday, at the UN meeting, just a few speakers before Mr Wang, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, spoke forcefully about allowing Taiwan to raise its profile in international organisations, including the World Health Organisation.
“How can we stand askance, in relative silence and contented inaction, in disregard of Taiwan’s legitimate right to exist in accord with the wishes and will of the Taiwanese people?” he asked.
Mr Wang’s appearance at the 2022 in-person edition of the UN General Assembly comes after two years of remote, pandemic-era speeches by China’s top leader.
Mr Xi did not attend this year’s general assembly, which Russian president, Vladimir Putin, also skipped. US President Joe Biden spoke on Wednesday.