China’s ambassador to the United States has said the two countries could face a “military conflict” over the future Taiwanin an unusually explicit reference to the prospect of war.
“The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States, Qin Gang told National Public Radio (NPR) on Friday. “If the Taiwanese authorities, encouraged by the United States, continue to go down the path of independence, it will most likely involve China and the United States, the two major countries, in the military conflict.”
Tensions over the island’s place in the world continue to grow. Beijing is considering Taiwan to be a breakaway province in China. In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Joe Biden that any support for Taiwanese independence from the United States would be “like playing with fire” and that “those who play with fire will be burned”.
Beijing has in recent years increased its pressure on the democratically governed island. In October, Xi promised to realize “reunification” with Taiwan by peaceful means. But on Sunday China’s air force flew 39 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – the largest daily number since October.
The United States and some of its allies have in the last few months advocated Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in the UN system”, a move that angered China. The British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee is reportedly planning to visit Taiwan next month.
Qin blamed the Taiwanese administration for the current situation. He accused it of “seeking[ing] its independence agenda by borrowing US support and encouragement ”. He added: “And the United States is playing the Taiwan card to limit China.”
Analysts say that although Qin’s warning to Washington is unusual, he also pointed out in the NPR interview that the bilateral ties constituted China’s most important issue.
“Such a confrontation would risk a permanent break in the bilateral relationship,” said Ali Wyne, senior analyst at US-China relations at the Eurasia Group in Washington. “While China often declares that its ‘great rejuvenation’ is based on Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland, there are probably few other steps Beijing could take that would undermine its long-term strategic prospects as much as attack Taipei.”