The island of Taiwan’s defense minister has warned that China will be able to launch an attack on the country by 2025. The warning comes as the U.S.-Taiwan relationship enters a new era following President Donald Trump’s decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, which sparked a wave of outrage in Taiwanese society and among many Americans who cherish their bonds with the democratic nation.
TAIPEI— According to Taiwan’s defense minister, the island’s military is facing its most serious threat from China in decades, indicating a rise in tensions after a flurry of Chinese military flights in the area that prompted alarm from the US.
By 2025, China’s People’s Liberation Army will be ready to conduct a full-scale assault on Taiwan with minimum casualties, according to Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng.
“The present condition for our military is really the grimmest in the more than 40 years since I entered the army,” Mr. Chiu said in a speech to Taiwan’s legislature on Wednesday, responding to legislators’ concerns over a planned $8.7 billion special defense funding package.
Mr. Chiu made his remarks after China’s military deployed over 150 fighters, bombers, and other aircraft near the self-ruled island in four days, an escalation that caused Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to accuse China of endangering regional peace on Wednesday.
“Here, I want to caution Beijing authorities that they must show some prudence to prevent inadvertently igniting confrontation,” she said in recorded remarks given to top officials of her Democratic Progressive Party, repeating Mr. Chiu’s warning that even a little blunder might ignite a crisis.
A request for comment from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office was not immediately returned. China is now on vacation for a week.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng stated, “The present condition for our military is really the grimmest in the more than 40 years since I entered the army.”
photo credit: Reuters/ann wang
Deng Xijun, China’s ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, tweeted late Wednesday that the PLA had “issued a strong message to the Taiwan secessionists and their international allies” by deploying 149 aircraft near Taiwan.
“China would take all necessary means to smash any ‘Taiwan independence’ efforts, which are destined to fail,” he said.
Chinese aircraft started flying sorties on Friday, about the same time as an armada of 17 ships, including two US carrier strike groups, gathered southwest of Okinawa, Japan, not far from Taiwan, to perform joint drills. The first sorties also happened to fall on China’s national holiday.
In response to the sorties, the Biden administration said that its commitment to Taiwan remains unwavering and called on Beijing to halt the flights.
According to a senior administration source, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan voiced significant worry about the flights to a top Chinese official on Wednesday.
He “made very clear our worries about Beijing’s recent, provocative actions, as well as our concerns about Beijing’s ongoing pressure and coercion,” the source added, refusing to describe Beijing’s reaction.
Mr. Sullivan stressed the need of regional and Taiwan Strait stability.
The official said, “It was a really honest and straight discussion.”
The flights, according to the source, are part of a “very worrisome pattern.”
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The rush of military action has re-ignited debate about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s intentions toward Taiwan, which the Communist Party believes to be a part of China. Beijing has said that if necessary, it would seize control of the island by force.
While Mr. Xi has made Taiwan’s unification a major component of his goals for China’s national rejuvenation, military experts differ on when and even whether the PLA, which hasn’t fought a war since 1979, would feel secure enough to launch an invasion. On Wednesday, Mr. Chiu weighed in on the issue with his remarks.
“It is competent today,” the defense minister added, “but it must assess how much it will cost and what sort of result it will produce.” “It would have reduced the cost and losses to a minimum by 2025,” he continued.
Mr. Chiu did not go into detail, but military experts have noted the important expertise PLA planes have gained flying inside Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone. Over the last year, there have been more than 800.
In the span of four days, China’s military deployed over 150 fighters, bombers, and other aircraft near Taiwan.
Jin Danhua/Associated Press photo
An air-defense identification zone, or ADIZ, is a zone that extends outside a territory’s airspace and is monitored to provide its military time to react to any approaching foreign aircraft. The Chinese planes haven’t come within 12 nautical miles of Taiwan’s shoreline, which it claims as its airspace.
Recent flights occurred late at night, which one former Taiwanese military commander saw as a sign that the PLA air force was on the verge of being able to engage in actual battle.
Ms. Tsai cautioned that if Taiwan were to collapse, “the implications would be disastrous” for democracy and regional peace, noting the island’s strategic position and strong democratic system in an article published Tuesday in Foreign Affairs magazine.
In a show of solidarity for Taiwan, a group of French senators arrived in Taipei on Wednesday to meet with Ms. Tsai despite China’s embassy’s strong objections.
When questioned about the group’s travel, the Chinese Embassy stated last month, “They are being used by the forces of ‘Taiwan independence.’” “Not only does this hurt China’s fundamental interests and Sino-French ties, but it also harms France’s own interests and reputation in the long run.”
According to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, the team, headed by former French defense minister Alain Richard, would spend five days in Taiwan. Mr. Richard was commended by the ministry’s spokesperson, Joanne Ou, for his “support for Taiwan and strong defense of freedom” in the face of Chinese threats.
For more than seven decades, Taiwan and China have had a tumultuous relationship. However, there are growing fears that China may take action against Taiwan in order to compel a unification. Gerald F. Seib of the Wall Street Journal outlines some of the reasons for concern. Laura Kammermann is the illustrator behind this image.
The French Office in Taipei, France’s de facto ambassador in Taiwan, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
When asked about the PLA’s flights through Taiwan’s ADIZ, President Biden said he had previously spoken with Mr. Xi about Taiwan and that the two had agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement,” which appears to be a reference to the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that any resolution to the question of Taiwan’s status should be achieved through peaceful means.
Mr. Biden said of Mr. Xi, “We made it plain that I don’t believe he should be doing anything other than adhering by the deal.” In early September, the two spoke for 90 minutes in an attempt to defuse tensions between the two countries.
Mr. Biden’s remarks were confirmed with the White House, and Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry was assured that US policy toward Taiwan had not changed, and that the US will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining its capacity to defend itself.
—This story was co-written by Gordon Lubold in Washington.
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