Chinese state media has warned that the threat of war is “real” and that it “may be triggered at any time”, as relations between China and Taiwan worsened and military tensions between the two countries escalated to their highest in more than 40 years.
On Monday, a record 56 Chinese warplanes intruded into Taiwan’s airspace, prompting Taipei’s defence ministry to scramble its air defence system and issue warnings. The show of force marked the fourth straight day of intrusions by aircraft belonging to the People’s Liberation Army, with about 148 Chinese planes encroaching on the island’s airspace.
Taiwan has described these incursions as “irresponsible provocative actions”, while the US, Japan and Australia urged China to end its military threats.
It also warned Taiwan and its supporters not to “continue to play with fire”, stating that “the Chinese mainland’s preparation to use force against Taiwan secessionist forces is much stronger than ever before”.
“The strategic collusion between the US and Japan and the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan] authorities is becoming more audacious, and the situation across the Taiwan Strait has almost lost any room for manoeuvre, teetering on the edge of a face-off, creating a sense of urgency that the war may be triggered at any time,” the editorial said.
Taiwan said on Monday that China had breached its airspace with 56 jets, including nuclear-capable bombers, in a single day. Before that, the People’s Liberation Army had sent 38 warplanes into the area on China’s National Day on Friday, and 39 aircraft on Saturday, followed by 16 on Sunday.
Hours before the incursions, it was reported that the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth had entered the disputed South China Sea, which China claims as its territorial waters. This may indicate that the British flagship’s joint exercise with US carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, and Japan’s helicopter destroyer JS Ise, was another precipitator of China’s “bullying” of Taiwan, according to experts.
The joint exercise with warships from six different countries continued over the weekend amid heightened tensions between Taiwan and China.
In a scathing rebuke, the editorial said that China would not allow the island to act as an “outpost of the US’s strategic containment against China”, and that it would not be allowed to secede from China under any circumstances.
Another harshly worded editorial in the Global Times said that Taiwan’s fate was “bound to be a catastrophe when they attempt to separate Taiwan from China”. It also warned that Taiwan was moving towards its “tomb” by colluding with external forces. This editorial was published in response to an article by Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, in Foreign Affairs magazine, where she warned of “catastrophic consequences” for peace in Asia if Taipei fell to Beijing.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s defence minister said that China had the ability to mount a “full scale” invasion of Taiwan by 2025. Chiu Kuo-cheng said the situation between China and Taiwan was “the most serious” in more than 40 years, and added that there was a risk of a “misfire” across the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
He said a parliamentary committee was reviewing a proposal for special military spending of T$240bn (£6.3bn) for weapons made in Taiwan, such as missiles and warships.
Though the US and Australia do not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, they issued statements lending support to Taiwan against China’s latest show of force.
Australia said it was “concerned by China’s increased air incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone over the past week” and warned against “the threat or use of force”.
The US described the incursions as provocative and destabilising. “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” it said.
But China criticised the US’s statement for “inflating” Taiwanese separatist forces, and asked Washington to stop supporting such actions.
Following China’s statement, Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he had spoken with Chinese president Xi Jinping on the phone. “I’ve spoken with Xi about Taiwan. We agree ... we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement,” he said. “We made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement.”
Mr Biden was said to be referring to Washington’s long-standing “one-China policy”, under which it officially recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan will hold talks with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland later on Wednesday amid heightened tensions between the world’s two largest economies over a range of issues, including Taiwan. It will be Mr Sullivan’s first face-to-face meeting with Mr Yang since the two were involved in verbal exchanges in Alaska in March.
A group of French senators, including a former defence minister, is to visit Taiwan this week, despite pressure from China. The delegation will be led by Alain Richard, head of the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, said Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou.
(With additional reporting from agencies)
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