A popular Chinese state-run newspaper has said China must prepare for “a direct military clash” over self-ruled Taiwan after a high-level U.S. official visited the island, angering Beijing.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Alex Wong became the first senior State Department official to visit Taiwan after President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages U.S. officials to travel to the island to meet their counterparts and vice versa.
Media reports quoted Wong as saying Wednesday in Taipei that the United States’ commitment to Taiwan has never been stronger, and that it would work to get international organizations to work closer.
“Taiwan can no longer be excluded unjustly from international fora. Taiwan has much to share with the world,” Wong said at a reception attended by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
“I can assure you, the United States government and the United States private sector will do their part to ensure Taiwan’s stellar international example shines brightly,” he added.
Such a move would likely encounter fierce resistance from China, which views Taiwan as its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war and have been ruled separately ever since.
Amid the possibility that visits to both countries by top officials could grow, the nationalist Global Times tabloid said in an editorial late Wednesday that China must “strike back” against the U.S. law. It suggested blocking senior State Department and Pentagon officials who visit Taiwan from visiting the mainland, but also took a tougher tack, proposing that Beijing target areas of mutual U.S.-China interest.
“China can pressure the U.S. in other areas of bilateral cooperation: for example, the Korean Peninsula issue and Iran nuclear issue,” the editorial said. “China can also set itself against the U.S. in international organizations such as the U.N.”
The paper also echoed a speech Tuesday by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who told the country’s largely rubber-stamp parliament that Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism.
“The mainland must also prepare itself for a direct military clash in the Taiwan Strait. It needs to make clear that escalation of U.S.-Taiwan official exchanges will bring serious consequences to Taiwan,” the editorial said, adding that it had in the past “suggested that the mainland can send military planes and warships across the Taiwan Strait’s middle line.”
For China, Taiwan is a “core interest” — one of its most sensitive and important issues — and is also a potential military flashpoint.
This threat was highlighted Tuesday and Wednesday, when Beijing sent an aircraft carrier group through the strait, prompting Taipei to dispatch planes and ships to shadow the group.
In an ominous warning, the Global Times editorial hinted that forceful reunification might actually cost China less than promoting peaceful reunification.
“It’s a misunderstanding to think that peaceful unification will be a harmonious and happy process,” it said. “Sticks matter more than flowers on the path to peaceful reunification.”
Julian Ku, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University in New York, said that the Taiwan Travel Act, as well as a recent law signed by Trump recommending U.S. Navy port calls in Taiwan, “represent a new U.S. attention to Taiwan.”
This fresh attention “seems to be driven by Congress, but not resisted by the Trump administration,” Ku said in an email. “I think it is driven by growing antagonism toward China on every front (economic, North Korea, South China Sea, influence ops, etc.) here in the U.S. This antagonism toward China makes actions more favorable to Taiwan more attractive for U.S. policymakers.”