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In clearer terms than ever, China threatens war in Taiwan

China’s defense minister threatened to go to war with Taiwan at the Shangri-La dialogue conference in Singapore last weekend.

The annual conference was organized by the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies and aims to bring together Asian and Western defense ministers to discuss security issues through friendly dialogue. But it was less a dialogue and more a war of words. China was defiant and confrontational and the Biden administration continued to be ambiguous and uninspiring, but Japan surprisingly stepped up its game.

The Chinese delegation was led by Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe, who insisted that “the development of the Chinese military is never aimed at threatening others or seeking hegemony. China is never a threat and has never threatened anyone else. Yet Wei quickly discredited his own talking point by repeatedly threatening war on Taiwan.

When meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on the sidelines of the Singapore conference, Wei said: “If anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will certainly not hesitate to trigger a war, whatever the cost. He further vowed that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China would “smash any plot for Taiwan independence and resolutely support the unification of the motherland”. International observers, including Taiwanese officials, pointed to Wei’s provocative language as evidence that China is in fact “the source of major unrest in the region.”

Unprecedented war speech

Then Wei used his speech on the last day of the conference to reiterate that Taiwan “is a province of China… If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs. And we will fight until the end. It is the only choice for China. Additionally, Wei said Taiwan’s reunification with mainland China is a “historic trend that no one or any force can stop.”

Communist China drawing a red line on the Taiwan issue was nothing new. Beijing has long insisted that Taiwan is part of Communist China territory. But Chinese government officials typically only used belligerent language on the Taiwan issue when addressing domestic audiences. For international audiences, Beijing’s official line on Taiwan has always been that China would seek “peaceful” reunification with Taiwan, but would not rule out the use of force to achieve it.

No other Chinese official has made an explicit threat of war against Taiwan on the international stage, especially in front of US officials, as Wei has. That’s why Wei’s remarks made headlines around the world.

preparation for war

Wei’s belligerent war rhetoric is no empty threat. The Chinese government has intensified its preparations for war. The PLA has built the largest navy in the world, measured by fleet size. Since 2020, the PLA has sent thousands of military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone, including 30 such incursions in the past month alone.

In addition to harassing and intimidating Taiwan’s air defenses, the Chinese air force has sent fighter jets from one of its militarized islands in the South China Sea to intercept Australian and Canadian military aircraft. over international waters, resulting in dangerous encounters. The PLA conducted several military exercises near Taiwan, with each exercise amounting to a full-scale rehearsal for an invasion of Taiwan.

China has also rapidly expanded its nuclear weapons development program in recent years, including developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry multiple nuclear warheads and strike the continental United States. China has kept its nuclear program secret and has refused to join the United States in nuclear arms control talks. Wei claimed that China’s nuclear arsenal buildup was justified for self-defense, but the Wall Street Journal, quoting people familiar with the thinking of China’s leaders, said China’s nuclear weapons buildup China was motivated by a possible confrontation with the United States over Taiwan.

Muted US Response

Contrary to Wei’s unmistakable threat, US Secretary of Defense Austin offered a rather low-key response. He reiterated that Washington remains committed to the “one China policy”. Additionally, he stressed that the United States “firmly supports the principle that cross-strait disputes should be resolved by peaceful means,” but will continue to uphold its commitments to Taiwan. He did not explain what those commitments are.

While Austin’s words were technically correct, they sounded weak and uninspiring. He missed a great opportunity to forcefully repel the threat of war from China and clarify US policy in Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. His lack of clarity did not reassure American allies in Asia.

It also didn’t help that three times President Biden publicly stated that the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, only to have his aides backtrack on his statements, suggesting he didn’t think so. he said every time. . In the Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead wrote that America’s traditional allies such as Indonesia are “turning away from Americans” because they perceive the Biden administration has a credibility problem.

Japan’s strong response

Amazingly, Japan has demonstrated how to inspire confidence in its allies and stand up to China convincingly. Given the geographic proximity of Taiwan and Japan, Japan views a Chinese invasion of Taiwan as a direct threat to Japan’s security. Influential Japanese politicians such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have spoken out in defense of Taiwan.

One of the highlights of the Singapore conference was Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s announcement that Japan would “fundamentally strengthen its defense capabilities over the next five years.” Citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year as a wake-up call for Japan, Kishida warned that “today’s Ukraine could be East Asia [of] tomorrow.” Without directly naming China, he said, “We must prepare for the emergence of an entity that tramples the peace and security of other countries by force or threat without respecting the rules.

Kishida promised to significantly increase Japan’s defense budget, referring to NATO members’ defense target of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) as Japan’s new target. Currently, Japan’s defense spending is nearly 1% of its GDP. Kishida also pledged to provide aid to Indo-Pacific countries, spending “at least $2 billion over the next three years on maritime security equipment, including patrol vessels, and for supporting maritime transport infrastructure”.

An important lesson the world should learn from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that we need to take threats of war from autocracies seriously. Putin had warned the West for years that he intended to invade Ukraine. He grew bolder after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 was met with a muted response from the West.

Last year Putin released a manifesto justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But few governments, including the Biden administration, have taken Putin’s threat seriously. A few months later, Putin did exactly what he promised to do, and the West was still caught off guard and rushing to react.

China has always been very transparent about its intentions towards Taiwan. Wei’s threat of war in Singapore has provided further clarity on what Beijing plans to do. Ignoring China’s repeated warnings would be a big mistake.


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Post expires at 1:55pm on Tuesday June 28th, 2022