Beijing’s warning is very firm: if Taiwan proclaims its independence, it will be « war ».
Beijing has clearly hardened its tone towards Taiwan. China considers the breakaway archipelago, born of the civil war, as one of its provinces and has no intention of separating from it, despite local independence manoeuvres organised with US support.
The diplomatic escalation is gradually intensifying. The latest Chinese incursions into the Taiwan Strait were already a « solemn warning » addressed to the actors present, said a spokesman for the Chinese government on Wednesday. A dozen fighters and bombers had indeed penetrated Saturday and Sunday in the air defense identification zone of Taiwan (about 200-250 km from the Taiwanese coast). The United States had assured in the aftermath that its support for Taipei remained « solid as a rock » and urged Beijing « to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure » on the island.
« Independence means war ».
This Thursday, the tone is rising sharply and China now threatens to go to war if Taiwan proclaims its independence: « The military activities carried out by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait are necessary to deal with the current situation (…) and to safeguard national sovereignty and security, » said Wu Qian, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defence. « This is a solemn response to outside interference and provocations by forces in favour of ‘Taiwan independence’ (…) Those who play with fire will burn themselves and ‘Taiwan independence’ means war, » he added.
Taiwan, the « Republic of China ».
Taiwan has a population of 23 million. The island has been ruled since 1945 by a regime (the « Republic of China ») that took refuge there after the victory of the communists in mainland China in 1949 after the Chinese civil war. The Beijing-based « People’s Republic of China » threatens to use force if the island formally declares independence.
Biden in the line of Trump?
Washington decided in 1979 to abandon Taipei and recognise the communist regime as the sole representative of China. But since then the United States has maintained an ambiguous relationship with Taiwan. It remains Taiwan’s most powerful ally and continues to supply it with weapons. Breaking with the status quo, the Trump administration has multiplied official contacts with the island during its mandate. A trend which could continue under Joe Biden: the Taiwanese representative in the United States has been invited to the inauguration of the new American president, a first since 1979.
Independence party in power
Relations between Beijing and Taipei have been tense since the arrival in power in 2016 of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, re-elected in 2020, whose party has traditionally campaigned for the formal independence of the island. Despite the tensions, the economies of mainland China and Taiwan remain closely linked and their citizens can move freely between the two territories with a laissez-passer.