Сhina’s vow to fight over Taiwan was not a provocation


China’s State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe spoke at the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 12, where he shared China’s vision on regional order and clarified Beijing’s position on several issues. A key sound bite from that speech was a stern warning to countries that could potentially provide support “Taiwan Independence”, which was immediately interpreted as provocative by the western media.

“If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight, we will fight at all costs,Wei said, stressing that China’s military capabilities and determination should not be underestimated. In that same speech, much to the surprise of Western media, Wei referred to the Taiwan region as: “First and foremost, the Taiwan of China.”

While it is true that these words were quite serious, they are not at all provocative. Wei expressed only a defensive position, namely that if China’s sovereignty were threatened by so-called “Taiwan Independence”, then the Chinese military would retaliate in kind to defend its territorial integrity. This implies that China’s position is dependent on changing circumstances regarding Taiwanese issues, but is not itself bent on disrupting the status quo.

You would think just the opposite if their knowledge of this matter were fully informed by the western media. For them, it is China that is shaking things up by threatening violence over the Taiwan issue. However, this ignores the status quo that Western governments have accepted when establishing diplomatic relations with China: the One China principle, which clearly states that there is one China and Taiwan is part of China.

This is important because the Taiwan issue is essentially about the Chinese Civil War, which started in 1927 but never had an official truce or peace treaty. That war was fought between the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government of the former Republic of China and forces led by the Communist Party of China. It essentially ended after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, but KMT troops fled to Taiwan and have remained there ever since.

If foreign actors intervened in the Taiwanese issue, it would essentially be meddling in an ongoing civil war, even if that war has all but extinguished and is now a political dispute. It is gross interference in what is a purely Chinese affair and increases the potential for conflict in the Taiwan Strait. This is why the issue of reunification is important to Beijing – because stopping this ongoing political dispute would significantly reduce regional friction.

Rather, what upsets the status quo is hostile actions by western governments, namely the United States. Just days before US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Wei met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the US approved a $120 million arms deal with Taiwan – which was not approved by Beijing. The US continues to militarize the Taiwan Strait and is said to have stationed troops there, for example on the territory of China.

The US wants to exploit and “internationalize” the issue of Taiwan to contain China, which is why Wei in his speech described China’s development as peaceful and beneficial to the world. Washington considers Beijing its main opponent because of China’s military might, technological prowess and economic indispensability, and will do everything it can to stop China from moving forward — even if that means meddling in China’s internal affairs.

Note that the increasing interest in the Taiwan issue, and opinions about it, have changed dramatically since the US was so-called “turn to asia” under former President Barack Obama. I can say from my own anecdotal experience that until recent years most Americans had no idea or had any interest in the Taiwan issue — and polls, including one last year by the Chicago Council, suggest this as well.

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It is clearly no coincidence that a perennial Chinese political issue has gone from an academic issue in the West to mainstream in the same time frame as China emerged. This is on top of the steady stream of concern about “human rights” in China, including those talked about in the Western media in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region or in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Given how important the Taiwan issue is to Beijing and Chinese national security, Wei’s speech was remarkably tame. If we were to imagine a circumstance in which the Confederate States of America somehow survived in an American exclave and America’s political opponents increased tensions over the issue decades later, it would clearly be treated in a similar way. This would be an extreme provocation in a strictly American affair, Washington would say, which is exactly how they should view the Taiwan issue now.

But the US would probably be well on its way to war by now, which is why China’s position is so commendable. China has had remarkable patience, but that patience can clearly run out if the red line is crossed.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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