Newly installed Taiwanese Premier Lai Ching-te, of the Democratic Progressive Party, made no bones about the fact that he was a “pragmatic advocate” for the island’s independence during his first inquiry session at the Legislative Yuan in September.

Almost two months later, Lai’s bold statement continues to rankle officials on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, amid renewed calls from the Chinese military to “recapture” the renegade province “once and for all.”

Wang Zaixi, former vice-director of the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office, told Global Times that with the rise of a more aggressive head of government who is less reluctant than his predecessors to manifest Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s inclinations toward a “Republic of Taiwan”, the already strained cross-Strait relations are taking a turn for the worse.

Wang believes that Lai may be aspiring to replace Tsai in the next presidential election in 2020, and thus he has to signal his more aggressive secessionist stance to vie for the endorsement from the DPP’s hardliners as well as an electorate that has never entertained the prospect of reunification with the mainland.

Beijing has recently warned that the ultimate fate of Taiwan’s push for independence, if Tsai and her cohorts including Lai are still bent on splitting the country, is “recapture” by the mainland, and that such action to take back the island would be “for the ultimate goal of realizing lasting peace across the Taiwan Strait.”

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A file photo shows Lai Ching-te (left), then mayor of Tainan City, accompanying Tsai Ing-wen during a canvassing campaign. Photo: Central News Agency

“The reason why in the past … China was ravaged by endless wars and turmoil was because the country was split, but [after] the Chinese Communist Party unified the mainland and founded the People’s Republic in 1949, peace and stability started to prevail.… Thus reunification is for Taiwan’s own sake,” Wang told the newspaper.

As for the rumored 2020 timetable for a military operation to reclaim the island, as open animosity between the two sides has once again fueled such speculation, Wang urged caution while admitting the urgency of resolving the situation, stressing that the ball was now in Tsai’s court.

“Calls for a war are not only heard in the military but in the society as well, and this tells clearly that mainlanders are more worried about the way Taiwan is going.

Taiwan's 101 Tower appeared to be in flames on a mock posting on an ISIS Twitter account. The island country is seen as a potential target for foreign terrorist attack. Experts say the Taiwanese parliament needs to draft legislation to bolster the country's response to an attack. Photo: Uwe Aranas/Wikipedia Commons.
Taipei 101 Tower, Taiwan’s highest skyscraper. Photo: Uwe Aranas/Wikipedia Commons.

“However, it has been 122 years since Taiwan’s cession to Japan in 1895, and ever since then the island was either occupied by colonizers or governed by parties with ideologies that are strikingly different from that of the mainland. These historical facts are still at play today.

“We have to assess the status quo rationally, as when our country makes continuous progress towards its revival, reunification is just a matter of time,” he said.

“But laying down a definitive timetable [for achieving that] is not realistic, and what’s the point of letting the opposite side know when you’re going to make your next move?”

Read more: Speculation rife as to whether Xi aims to ‘recapture’ Taiwan