In tandem with its increasingly provocative coercive military measures directed against Taiwan, throughout the course of 2022, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) also ramped up its accompanying rhetoric. The PRC vigorously reasserted its irredentist sovereignty claims, decried alleged “separatist” activities by Taiwan’s political leaders and assailed “interference by external forces” (外部势力干涉); the latter elements are left unnamed but are clearly implied as the United States and other Western countries. One of the most prominent examples of this pattern occurred in August, when the PRC released a new policy white paper titled The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era (台湾问题与新时代中国统一事业) (Gov.cn, August 10, 2022). This document contained little that was substantively new, but it restated—in even stronger terms than earlier official documents—the PRC’s claims over Taiwan (China Brief, September 20, 2022).
These positions have been reiterated in other statements by PRC officials since the release of the white paper, such as the public comments made by PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) at the Munich Security Conference in February. Per the official state media summary, Wang asserted that:
Taiwan has been part of China’s territory since the ancient times, and it has never been a state, nor will it ever be… It is not China but the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces who want to change this status quo… “Taiwan independence” separatist activities and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait are as irreconcilable as water and fire. To safeguard peace across the Taiwan Strait, we must resolutely oppose “Taiwan independence,” and firmly stay committed to the One-China Principle (PRC Foreign Ministry, February 18).
A key element of context for these hardline messages is that in late 2021 and early 2022, CCP leadership speeches and media commentaries also began to reference the “Party’s Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem in the New Era” (新时代党解决台湾问题的总体方略). This “plan” has hitherto been only vaguely defined, but purportedly emphasizes united front “people-to-people” exchanges (民间交流) and promised economic inducements—while continuing to spurn any dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically-elected government (Global Taiwan Brief, February 9, 2022).
The CCP’s “Two Sessions” in March 2023
In the first half of March, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) convened its annual Two Sessions (两会) meetings in Beijing (Xinhua, March 13). Arguably the most important event on the PRC’s annual political calendar, the carefully scripted Two Sessions consist of near-simultaneous meetings of the PRC National People’s Congress (全国人民代表大会, NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (中国人民政治协商会议, CPPCC). The NPC functions as the PRC’s rubber-stamp legislature, codifying selected CCP policy decisions into national law and confirming personnel appointments made behind closed doors. For its part, the CPPCC operates as a nominal advisory body for the government—“an important channel for socialist consultative democracy” (CPPCC, August 26, 2021)—while providing a veneer of pluralism for CCP one-party rule, and further offering a stage-managed fora for promoting selected CCP propaganda narratives (China Brief, May 29, 2020; China Brief, April 9, 2019).
The Two Sessions this March follow last October’s 20th Party Congress, during which CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (习近平) secured a third term in office and succeeded in filling all of the most senior positions in the party bureaucracy with loyalists (China Brief, October 24, 2022). As a result, this year’s NPC and CPPC were particularly important for the insights they might offer into the future direction of policy under Xi’s reinforced autocratic rule. As a hot-button political issue, Taiwan is a regular feature of CCP leadership speeches and state media commentary—including the discourse presented at the Two Sessions. In terms of Taiwan policy, this year’s meetings were characterized by continued adherence to what might be called a “measured hardline:” one in which the CCP maintained all its rigid positions while refraining from laying out any new concrete measures to advance its goals.
Li Keqiang’s Work Report and Taiwan Discourse at the NPC
As is standard practice at the National People’s Congress (NPC), the PRC state premier—the nominal head of government, but not the party—delivers an official “work report” (工作报告) that touts the government’s achievements over the past year and lays out priorities for the year ahead. Li Keqiang (李克强), giving his valedictory address as the outgoing premier, fulfilled this ceremonial role on the opening day of the NPC on March 5. His speech, which was heavy on economic policy, touched only briefly on Taiwan (China Brief, March 6). The mentions of Taiwan provided a pro forma reiteration of PRC positions, using well-worn language emphasizing the “One-China Principle” (一个中国原则) and the “92 Consensus” (九二共识).  Li stated that:
We must persist in implementing the Party’s Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem in the New Era, persist in the One-China Principle and the “92 Consensus,” firmly oppose “independence” and promote unification, promote cross-Strait relations and peaceful development, [and] advance the course of the motherland’s peaceful unification. Compatriots on both sides of the Strait are linked by blood, [we must] accelerate cross-Strait economic, cultural [and] exchange cooperation, perfecting and enhancing the system and policies for Taiwan compatriots’ welfare; [and] advance cross-Strait commonly-held Chinese culture, [and] with one heart create the great enterprise of national revival (People’s Daily, March 6).
It is noteworthy that the proceedings of the 2023 NPC did not include any public discussion of a potential “national unification law” (国家统一法) directed at Taiwan—one that would be intended to bolster the “Anti-Secession Law” (反分裂国家法) passed in 2005 (FMPRC, March 14, 2005). The possibility of enacting such a law had been raised recently—for example, in semi-official state media articles published during the 2021 Two Sessions (Global Times, March 5, 2021). Furthermore, speculation surrounding such a law increased again in the PRC state press prior to the most recent party congress (Zhongguowang, September 22, 2022). However, the omission of a “national unification law” from this year’s NPC agenda suggests that this idea remains on hold for now.
Taiwan Discourse at the CPPCC—and the Lack of Any New Ideological Framework
Li Keqiang’s NPC speech was mirrored by the March 4 work report of outgoing CPPCC chairman Wang Yang (汪洋). (Wang, like Li, is also a Hu Jintao protégé who was shunted aside at the 20th Party Congress in October and forced on a track to early retirement.) The CPPCC is controlled and carefully stage-managed by the CCP United Front Work Department (Zhongyang Tongzhan Bu, 中央统战部), or UFWD, which plays a primary role in the CCP’s outreach and cooptation efforts directed at persons and groups in Taiwan. The CPPCC chairman traditionally holds the number four-ranked position in the Politburo Standing Committee, with attendant duties including the overall management of the party’s united front policy portfolio.
As such, Wang might have been expected to discuss Taiwan policy. However, Wang’s work report, like Li’s, was light in this area. As is often the case, Taiwan was mentioned in conjunction with Hong Kong and Macao policy—which Wang predictably praised, while exhorting delegates to uphold the National Security Law (国家安全法) and other aspects of Beijing’s tightening control over those regions. Wang directly mentioned Taiwan in only one sentence, calling upon the audience to “participate in commemorating the 75th anniversary of Taiwan’s recovery,” to engage with PRC-sponsored “grassroots governance fora” (基层治理论坛) and to “strengthen relations with relevant political parties, organizations and persons” (CPPCC, March 5).
Wang Yang’s successor as CPPCC chairman, Wang Huning (王沪宁), delivered a closing address to the CPPCC on March 11. Notably, this speech made no mention of Taiwan (or of Hong Kong and Macao, for that matter). Instead, the speech was characterized by repetitive, obsequious assertions of loyalty to Xi Jinping (whose name was mentioned a total of 15 times) (CCP News Net, March 11). Earlier this year, there had been speculative commentary to the effect that Wang Huning—who has been recognized as a major ghost writer for CCP ideological formulations since the 1990s—had been placed in charge of formulating a new ideological framework to supersede the “One Country, Two Systems” (一国两制) (OCTS) concept first introduced under supreme leader Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) in the late 1970s (Nikkei Asia, January 26). However, no such new ideological formula was unveiled during this year’s Two Sessions, and OCTS was still invoked whenever Taiwan was mentioned.
Xi’s Address to the National People’s Congress
As is now de rigueur for any major political event in China, pride of place in the Two Sessions was given to CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. He closed out the NPC proceedings on March 13 with a lengthy “important speech” (重要讲话) that was covered widely in state media. Reflecting perhaps both Xi’s status and the sensitivity of Taiwan as an issue, Xi devoted significantly more attention to Taiwan in his remarks than lower-ranking figures. In general terms, his speech strongly reiterated the appropriateness of the “One Country, Two Systems” framework for Hong Kong and Macao—and by clear implication, for Taiwan. Regarding Taiwan more directly, Xi stated that:
Achieving the complete unification of the motherland is the common aspiration of all sons and daughters of China, [and] has central significance for national revival. [We] must implement the Party’s Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem in the New Era, persist in the One-China Principle and the “92 Consensus,” actively promote the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, [and] firmly oppose interference by external forces and “Taiwan independence” activities, resolutely advancing the process of unifying the motherland (Xinhua, March 13).
It is noteworthy that Xi’s speech did not appear to contain either any new policy initiatives, or any new official phraseology (提法). Instead, it offered a familiar (and highly repetitive) recitation of officially-approved CCP terms and rigid policy positions.
In terms of Beijing’s Taiwan policy, this year’s Two Sessions offered little that was new—although that is, in itself, significant. This year’s events were clearly focused on Xi Jinping’s tightening grip on power and the increasing centralization of government functions under the “party center” (党中央). In recent years, the “Two Sessions” have been used to signal forthcoming policy initiatives—for example, the messaging during the 2020 events that presaged Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong (China Brief, May 29, 2020). However, as far as Taiwan is concerned, there was little clear signaling this year—and no apparent further elucidation of the party’s much ballyhooed, but vague, “Comprehensive Plan for Resolving the Taiwan Problem in the New Era.”
All of this appears to indicate continuation of a “measured hardline” in CCP policy towards Taiwan: one that adheres to existing rigid positions, but that does not—at least for the moment—levy new demands, or set deadlines for compliance with Beijing’s terms for “reunification.” This in turn suggests that Beijing’s policy towards Taiwan in the coming year will see significant continuity with what was observed in 2022: refusal to engage with “separatist” leaders in Taiwan; sustained military coercive pressure and psychological operations targeting Taiwan’s population; and continuation of united front outreach-cum-cooptation efforts directed towards businesspeople and other selected groups in Taiwan. Continuity, albeit with the prospect of gradually escalating pressure, is the most likely course for the PRC’s Taiwan policy throughout the remainder of 2023.
John Dotson is the deputy director of the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington DC. He is a former editor of Jamestown’s China Brief.
 The “One-China Principle” (一个中国原则) is Beijing’s term—promoted aggressively in international discourse—for the idea that there can be only one Chinese state, and that this is the People’s Republic of China. The “92 Consensus” (九二共识) is a formulation originating in CCP and Kuomintang negotiations in the 1990s, during which the two sides reached a vague agreement that both Taiwan and the Chinese mainland belonged to “one China,” but with differing interpretations of that meaning—i.e., whether the “one China” referred to the Republic of China (ROC), or the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Over the past year, the PRC has insistently demanded that any Taiwan interlocutors affirm the “92 Consensus”—the interpretation of which the CCP is attempting to shift towards affirmation of full PRC sovereignty over Taiwan. For a fuller discussion of this, see: John Dotson, “The CCP Commemorates the 30th Anniversary of the ‘1992 Consensus’—and Seeks to Change Its Meaning” (Global Taiwan Brief, September 21, 2022), https://globaltaiwan.org/2022/09/the-ccp-commemorates-the-30th-anniversary-of-the-1992-consensus-and-seeks-to-change-its-meaning/.