In major policy shift, China says it will take Taiwan by force if necessary

Updated on Aug 11, 2022 12:42 PM IST

China on Wednesday, in only its third white paper on Taiwan since 1993 and the first after President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, said it will not ‘renounce’ the use of military force to bring the self-governed island under its control

Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022. (AFP) PREMIUM
Chinese military helicopters fly past Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points from Taiwan, in Fujian province on August 4, 2022. (AFP)

BEIJING: China on Wednesday, in only its third white paper on Taiwan since 1993 and the first after President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, said it will not “renounce” the use of military force to bring the self-governed island under its control as its armed forces concluded the largest ever exercises around the island but announced that it will conduct regular patrols in the region.

The military exercise announced last week in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit - which extended beyond the initial four-day schedule - ended on Wednesday, the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) eastern theatre command said in a statement.

The eastern command said a series of joint military operations in the sea and airspace around Taiwan had “successfully completed various tasks and effectively tested the integrated combat capabilities of the troops”.

“Theatre forces will keep an eye on the changes in the situation in the Taiwan Strait, continue to carry out training and preparation for combat, organise regular combat readiness patrols in the direction of the Taiwan Strait, and resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement added.

China’s decision to conduct “regular patrols” in the region means it is in no mood to relent from its aggressive posturing against Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy which Beijing claims as a renegade region.

For nearly a week, the PLA fired missiles over the island, while its fighter jets and warships entered into Taiwan’s air and water space with impunity, crossing the notional median line on the Taiwan Strait.

Chinese state media said the unprecedented military drills were a practice for the final “reunification” of Taiwan and a blueprint to blockade it.

Against the backdrop of rising tension in the region, the Chinese government’s latest policy paper on Taiwan released on Wednesday reiterated Beijing’s tough stance even as it talked about peace.

The previous editions of the documents were The Taiwan Question and Reunification of China (1993) and The One-China Principle and the Taiwan Question (2000), a state media report said.

China will seek “peaceful reunification,” but “will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures,” said the white paper titled The Taiwan Question and China’s Reunification in the New Era. It was released by the Taiwan affairs office of the state council (China’s Cabinet) and its information department.

Referring to the use of military force, it said: “This is to guard against external interference and all separatist activities. In no way does it target our fellow Chinese in Taiwan. Use of force would be the last resort taken under compelling circumstances,” it added.

“We are ready to create vast space for peaceful reunification; but we will leave no room for separatist activities in any form,” the policy paper said.

Without naming the US, the white paper criticised “external forces” for instigating provocative action in the region.

“External forces have encouraged and instigated provocative actions by the separatist forces; these have intensified cross-Straits tension and confrontation, and undermined peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” it said, in what appeared to be referring to Pelosi’s visit and Washinton’s support for Taiwan, despite having no official ties with the island given that US follows the “one China” principle.

The white paper said the “one country, two systems” principle will work in maintaining Taiwan’s “distinct social systems and ideologies”.

“To realise peaceful reunification, we must acknowledge that the mainland and Taiwan have their own distinct social systems and ideologies. “The ‘one country, two systems’ principle is the most inclusive solution to this problem,” it said, referring to the mechanism of partial autonomy under which Beijing governs Hong Kong and Macau.

A Reuters report pointed out that in the latest document China had withdrawn an assurance not to send troops or administrators to Taiwan after taking it back unlike in the past two documents (1993 and 2000), “…signalling a decision by President Xi Jinping to grant less autonomy than previously suggested”.

Beijing has come under strong international criticism in the ways it has diluted the system in Hong Kong after quelling pro-democracy protests in the city and ensuring that mainland loyalists now govern it.

China’s white paper on Taiwan glossed over the opinion of many on the island who are against merging with the mainland but are in favour of continued close economic cooperation.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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