Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has warned that a failure to defend Taiwan against China would be “catastrophic” to peace in East Asia.
In an opinion piece for Foreign Affairs published on Tuesday, Tsai said Taiwan is part of the first island group “which runs from northern Japan to Borneo; should this line be broken by force, the consequences would disrupt international trade and destabilize the entire western Pacific.”
China sent a record number of military planes toward the island over the weekend. Since Friday, which is also National Day on the mainland, China has sent 148 military airplanes into the south and southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The planes included fighter jets and bombers.
Experts noted that some flights were carried out at night when it was more difficult to see. The Associated Press reported that the total number of Chinese planes to enter Taiwan’s air defense zone has reached 814.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said it sent fighter jets to follow the movements of the Chinese planes and observed them with its air defense system. It said China's activities were designed to wear out Taiwan's forces and to test Taiwan's defenses.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Taiwan’s Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang added, "Taiwan must be on alert. China is more and more over the top." He said Taiwan also needed to “strengthen itself,” adding "only then will countries that want to annex Taiwan not dare to easily resort to force.”
Globalfirepower estimates that Taiwan’s air force has 739 aircraft compared to China’s 3,260. Its navy is one-seventh the size of mainland China’s. In addition, mainland China has more than 2.1 million active soldiers while the island has 165,000 troops.
From Washington, D.C., White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the United States is “concerned” about Chinese military activity. She added it “risks miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability.”
In a statement on Monday night, China’s foreign ministry replied that “China will take all necessary countermeasures and resolutely crush any ‘Taiwan independence’ plot.”
Japan also said it was watching the situation closely and said it hoped Taiwan and China could resolve their differences through talks. Over the weekend, the Japanese navy held joint exercises with naval forces from the United States, Britain and Canada. Other countries included the Netherlands and New Zealand. The exercises included American and British aircraft carriers.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said it too was concerned by China's increased military activities and called for talks over issues in the area. Australia recently entered a partnership with the U.S. and Britain to build nuclear-powered submarines for its navy.
Taiwan – China conflict
China and Taiwan divided as a result of the Chinese Civil War. Since 1949, Taiwan has governed itself independently under the name Republic of China.
China, known as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has long claimed Taiwan as its territory which could be taken by force if necessary.
Relations between the two sides improved during the 1990s when Taiwan permitted visits and expanded investment in the mainland.
Tensions have increased since 2016 with the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. In 2019, Tsai rejected Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for China to rule Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” model. That term describes China’s policy toward Hong Kong since 1997, which permitted the city to keep its local laws and government systems.
Huge protests against Chinese rule in Hong Kong led to the establishment of a new security law last year. The law effectively ended Hong Kong’s limited self-rule under the “one country, two systems” policy.
The United States recognizes the PRC as the only “legal government of China.” But it rejects the use of force to settle the dispute and sells weapons to Taiwan to defend itself. Under the administrations of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, the U.S. has increased its contacts with Taiwan.
Navy Admiral John Aquilino is head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Aquilino warned the U.S. Congress at his confirmation hearing in March that the threat of China attacking Taiwan “is much closer than most think.”
On Tuesday, Tsai repeated that “Taiwan does not seek military confrontation” with China. She added, “But if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do wrote this report for Learning English with additional reporting from the Associated Press and Reuters . Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
catastrophic –n. a terrible disaster
consequences –n.(pl.) something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions
disrupt –v. to cause something to be unable to continue in a normal way
destabilize –v. to cause (something, such as a government) to be unable to continue existing or working in the usual or desired way: to make (something) unstable
zone –n. an area that is different from other areas in a particular way
(on) alert –n. the state of being ready for something you have been warned about (such as an attack)
miscalculation –n. to make an error in judgement
resolutely –adv. showing strong will to do something
confrontation –n. a situation in which people or group fight or oppose each other in an angry way
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