China Prepares New Pretext for Future Attacks, Says Taiwan’s Foreign Minister | Taiwan
Taiwan’s government believes China is preparing to find another “pretext to practice its future attack” on the island, its foreign minister said, after a record year of military threats and incursions.
Joseph Wu also suggested that communications across the strait could further decline now that Xi Jinping has secured his third term, with last month’s extraordinary political purges of rival Communist Party members severing the few remaining unofficial ties.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Taipei, Wu said the Chinese military threat was “becoming more serious than ever”, with a fivefold increase in fighter jet incursions into the Taiwan Defense Zone since 2020.
The most serious bout of Chinese military activity was August’s live-fire drills, held after US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Chinese officials said the drills, which included missile launches, were a rehearsal of the blockade tactics they would one day use against Taiwan for real. Analysts noted that the scale of the drills suggested they had likely been planned long ago, and Pelosi’s visit merely provided the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with a political pretext.
“And we are quite sure that the Chinese may want to use another pretext to practice their future attacks on Taiwan. So this is a military threat against Taiwan,” Wu said.
The minister said it was not just China’s military efforts that were intensifying, but a “combination of pressures”, including economic coercion, cyber attacks, cognitive and legal warfare and diplomatic efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally.
With the growing number of military incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone – from 380 Chinese fighter jets in 2020 to more than 1,500 already this year – there is a growing risk of accidents that could lead to escalations. Such incidents in the past have been defused through cross-strait communications, but after Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen, was elected in 2016, Beijing severed official ties.
Wu said Taiwan had previously maintained some lines of communication through Taiwanese businessmen and scholars who had “good relations with the Chinese side”.
But since Xi was renominated for a third term at the 20th Party Congress, there has been a major purge from party ranks and those doors have closed, Wu said.
“It’s because the Chinese government system has become so authoritarian. It’s not like the good old days when ordinary academics could write recommendations to central government and be able to get in touch with key decision makers and tell us what key leaders are thinking, things like that “, did he declare.
“In these two years, we find that Chinese academia is afraid to say things other than Chinese propaganda. And they told us very frankly that they were no longer connected to the central government, or even if they could connect with the government bureaucracies, those bureaucracies no longer seemed to have the confidence of the top leader.
“He’s the supreme leader and there’s no one else challenging him right now.”
In response to the growing threat of invasion from China, the Taiwanese government has spent the past few years courting international support among “like-minded democracies”.
Wu said the drills conducted after Pelosi’s visit were also meant to scare other governments that might support Taiwan — symbolically now, or militarily later. The furor over Pelosi’s visit sparked debate over whether she had in fact escalated tensions, despite Taiwan’s insistence she was greeted with gratitude.
“If China can do this during President Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, I think it will worry other countries. [about] whether their support for Taiwan will actually harm Taiwan’s national interest rather than provide genuine support for Taiwan,” he said.
Beijing has repeatedly reacted angrily to any act that appears to support Taiwan, including arming bilateral trade, as it did with Lithuania when it opened mutual representative offices with Taipei. It also pressured some countries to change their recognition of Taipei entirely, leaving only 14 countries in the world.
However, Beijing’s increasingly aggressive and expansionist behavior in the region so far appears to have further isolated it and emboldened more vocal support for Taiwan.
“I think the international community seems to be dealing with it,” Wu said of China’s retaliatory actions.
With the lifting of pandemic restrictions, Taiwan has seen a marked increase in the number of visiting foreign delegations. Several American groups have visited the site and a British parliamentary delegation met with Tsai last week, which drew rebuke from Beijing.
China remains an important partner for many Western countries, and governments are walking a tightrope. This week’s cautious tour by an Australian parliamentary delegation came just as Canberra sought to mend relations with Beijing.
Wu acknowledged that Australia was facing a “balancing act”.
“But we don’t question the support of the Australian government, the Australian parliament and the Australian people for Taiwan,” he said.
Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin