HONG KONG -- Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday declared that the Taiwan independence movement is "the biggest obstacle to reunification," which he vowed to realize, warning those who "betray the motherland."
In a speech marking the 110th anniversary of the dynasty-ending Xinhai Revolution, Xi said secessionist forces pose a "serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation."
"It has never ended well for those who forget their ancestors, betray the motherland, or split the country," the president said at Beijing's Great Hall of the People. "They will definitely be scorned by the people and judged by history," he said, adding that no external interference should be allowed.
The Xinhai Revolution, which started on Oct. 10, 1911, led to the end of a 2,000-year-old monarchy in China and established the Republic of China by the Kuomintang -- which later fled to Taiwan in the late 1940s after advances by the Communist Party.
Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, commemorates the occasion as Double Ten National Day. Mainland China generally marks the day celebrating revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, but it has increasingly set a more anti-Taiwan tone.
Xi's speech comes ahead of anniversary events in Taiwan on Sunday, and as cross-strait tensions intensify. Taiwan's defense minister said Beijing was capable of a "full scale" invasion by 2025, as record numbers of Chinese military planes repeatedly flew through Taiwan's air defense identification zone this week.
Quoting Sun, the republic's first president, Xi said: "'Unification' is the hope of all Chinese citizens. If you can reunify, the people of the whole country will enjoy the blessings; if you can't unify, you will suffer." Xi emphasized that reunification by "peaceful means is most in line with the overall interests of the Chinese nation, including the Taiwan compatriots."
Observers said Xi might be trying to appeal to supporters of the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan -- now the opposition to the Tsai Ing-wen administration -- by echoing Sun's words on reunification, but doubted it would work.
"Even KMT supporters don't want anything to do with the People's Republic of China," said Lev Nachman, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard's Fairbanks Center, using the mainland's official name. "It's an important distinction. You have people who are pro-unification if it's a Republic of China unification, not a unification with the PRC."
The democratic island has been governed independently of China since 1949, but Beijing maintains a "One China" principle and insists on reunification -- by force if necessary.
Relations between the two sides have deteriorated since 2016, when Tsai was elected and China cut diplomatic engagements with the island. China has sought to further isolate Taiwan, which is recognized by 14 mostly small nations and the Holy See, preventing it from joining international bodies such as the World Health Organization and shutting Taiwan's representative offices in Hong Kong and Macao.
Earlier this week, the U.S. emphasized its "rock solid" commitment to Taiwan, after U.S. President Joe Biden said he had spoken to Xi and agreed they would "abide by the Taiwan agreement."
Under the Taiwan Relation Act, the U.S. switched diplomatic relations to Beijing in 1979, while promising to provide Taiwan a supply of arms for self-defense.
China has proposed a "one country, two systems" model for Taiwan, but Tsai has repeatedly rejected it, pointing to the "failure" of the arrangement in Hong Kong.