In what is shaping up as the next explosive geopolitical hotspot, one of China’s most senior generals said on Friday that the country will attack Taiwan if there is no other way of stopping it from becoming independent in the latest rhetorical escalation between China and the democratically ruled island Beijing claims as its own, Reuters reported.
Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 15th anniversary of the Anti-Secession Law, Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department and member of the Central Military Commission, left the door open to using force. The 2005 law gives the country the legal basis for military action against Taiwan if it secedes or seems about to. Li is one of China’s few senior officers with combat experience, having taken part in China’s ill-fated invasion of Vietnam in 1979.
As Reuters notes the comments “are especially striking amid international opprobrium over China passing new national security legislation for Chinese-run Hong Kong.”
Taiwan’s government denounced the comments, saying that threats of war were a violation of international law and that Taiwan has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China.
“Taiwan’s people will never choose dictatorship nor bow to violence”, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said. “Force and unilateral decisions are not the way to resolve problems.”
Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing says it is a Chinese province, and has denounced the Trump administration’s support for the island. Li Zhanshu, the third-most-senior leader of China’s ruling Communist Party and head of China’s Parliament, told the same event that non-peaceful means were an option of last resort: “As long as there is a slightest chance of a peaceful resolution, we will put in hundred times the effort,” Li Zhanshu said. However, he added: “We warn Taiwan’s pro-independence and separatist forces sternly, the path of Taiwan independence leads to a dead end; any challenge to this law will be severely punished”.
Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China, and has denounced China’s repeated military drills near the island while rejecting China’s offer of a “one country, two systems” model of a high degree of autonomy.
President Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party won presidential and parliamentary elections by a landslide in January, vowing to stand up to Beijing. At the same time, China is deeply suspicious of Taiwan’s president Tsai, whom it accuses of being a separatist bent on declaring formal independence. Ms Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.