Officials in the Chinese capital have been enraged by an apparent gear-change in US support for Taiwan and responded with increased military activity in the troubled region. Beijing has accused Washington of effectively backing Taiwan’s bid for independence by sending high-ranking White House officials for talks in Tapei and planning major new arms sales to its well-trained and well-armed military.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen sparked further outrage on the mainland when she said the island was already an independent country called the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name – and insisted the People’s Republic of China has never ruled Taiwan and has no right to.
And an article in US military magazine Army Review which discussed the return of US troops to Taiwan did little to ease tensions.
China’s state-controlled media responded with a chilling warning of future conflict.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the ultra-nationalist Global Times newspaper, said: “I must warn people in the US and Taiwan who hold this kind of thinking.
“Once they take the step of returning US forces to Taiwan, the PLA will definitely start a just war to safeguard China’s territorial integrity.
“China’s Anti-Secession Law is a tiger with teeth.”
The official China Daily newspaper accused Washington of trying to use Taiwan to contain China but warned nobody should underestimate its determination to assert its sovereignty over the island.
An editorial in the paper said: “The US administration should not be blinkered in its desperation to contain the peaceful rise of China and indulge in the US addiction to its hegemony.”
The US has no formal diplomatic ties with the Taiwan but has become its strongest backer and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Beijing of bluster when asked about recent Chinese activity in the Taiwan Strait.
Chinese aircraft have frequently entered the island’s air defence identification zone in recent weeks, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept them.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said it had “clearly defined” procedures for a first response amid “high frequency of harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and aircraft this year”.
She said: “I have a lot of confidence in you. As soldiers of the Republic of China, how could we let enemies strut around in our own airspace?
“I’m aware that facing the provocative behaviour of the communist planes that have encircled the island and damaged regional peace in recent days, your duty at the front line of the airspace in Penghu must be even heavier.”
A senior White House official said the Chinese aircraft movements were “consistent with past Chinese behaviour” during heightened tensions and appeared more a reaction to Taiwan domestic politics.
The official said Washington did not believe China was seeking to escalate into a military confrontation.