Why China warns of reprisals against Taiwan

Chinese President Xi Jinping China Taiwan

China has warned of “undefined reprisals” against Taiwan after the self-ruling island’s new President Lai Ching-te in his inaugural speech on May 20, described China as “the greatest strategic challenge to global peace and stability.” The 64-year-old doctor turned politician, Lai, who was labelled as a “troublemaker” by Chinese state-controlled media ahead of polls in January this year, said, “Taiwan must show determination to defend itself while cooperating with other democracies.”

By making such statements in his inaugural speech, Lai Ching-te hinted clearly about his government’s approach towards China, the East Asian country which claims that it will annex Taiwan by force, should efforts to reunify the self-ruling island with mainland China by other means fail.

In fact, the new Taiwanese President who has indicated broadly that he will adhere to his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen’s external policy, is ready to call spade a spade. “I hope that China will face the reality of the Republic of China existence…and in good faith engage in cooperation with the legal government chosen by Taiwan’s people,” Lai said in his inaugural speech on Monday.

It was a categorical message to China that Taiwan would never surrender its independence no matter how stronger and formidable challenges come before it. While China was taking note of Lai Ching-te’s speech, the US and Japan were busy congratulating the 64-year-old new President of Taiwan.

“We look forward to working with President Lai across Taiwan’s political spectrum to advance our shared interests and values, deepen our longstanding unofficial relationship, and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Intriguingly, when such congratulatory words were pouring in for Lai Ching-te from Taiwan’s allies and friends from across the world, China was trying to figure out the political meaning of the statement of Laura Rosenberger, a senior US diplomat who is currently chairperson of the American Institute in Taiwan.

The 45-year-old US diplomat who formerly served as Special Assistant to President Joe Biden, told media recently that “UN Resolution 2758 did not make a determination on the status of Taiwan, did not preclude any countries from having diplomatic relationships with Taiwan and did not preclude Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the UN system.”

To Chinese authorities, this statement came as a bombshell. They feel Americans are “trying to reopen the closed case.” “They are trying to reopen the closed case that Taiwan is part of China—a matter already settled by the international community once for all—to deny UNGA Resolution 2758 and the one-China principle,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, while terming the American diplomat’s statement as “extremely preposterous and dangerous.”

Whatever may be Chinese authorities’ argument in defence of its claim over Taiwan, the arrival of Lai Ching-te on the presidential chair of the self-ruling island has added to Beijing’s tension. The new Taiwanese President has not only vowed to advance Tsai Ing-Wen’s policy of independence, but has also hinted about relying on external forces to defend the self-ruling island’s existence.

Both the US and Japan have plans to stand in support of the island, if it is attacked by China. In fact, these two countries have vital strategic interests at stake in the Taiwan Strait. Since the island is located at a critical point—stretching from the Japanese archipelago to the Philippines and the South China Sea, its security is important for the sake of the US and Japan’s defence and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific, analysts said.

Particularly for the US, it would be far more “difficult to maintain a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific or prevent a Chinese bid for regional dominance,” should Taiwan is annexed by Beijing, David Sacks, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in his article for the US-based think tank’s portal. He further said that “if the US chooses to stand aside from Chinese aggression against Taiwan and China successfully annexes the island, it would be only seventy miles from Japanese territory and 120 miles from the Philippines. The allies would come to question whether the US would or even could come to their defence.”

Presenting a situation which would become untenable for the US post Taiwan’s annexation, David Sacks said, “Having lost confidence in the US commitment to their security, allies would contemplate either accommodating China or hedging against it by growing their militaries or even developing nuclear weapons. Either outcome would result in diminished US influence and increased regional and global instability.”

To ward off the emergence of such scenarios, the US is not only investing in Taiwan’s defence by supplying military hardware and technology to the self-ruling island, it is also strengthening its preparedness to take on China by sealing security-related pacts with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

In July, as per Japan’s Kyodo news agency, the US is arranging a summit between President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of a NATO meet in Washington. In this summit, second since the Camp David summit between the US, Japan, and South Korea which took place in August 2023, the three countries are likely to discuss issues including bolstering deterrence against China, Kyodo news agency said.

Overall, along with South and East China Seas, the Taiwan Strait present a challenge in terms of their security from China, the East Asian country which does not subscribe to the fact that its hegemonic behaviour will result in widespread chaos and instability in the region.

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