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"War is not impossible" between China and Taiwan: Prof Shaun Breslin

Tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in forty years, according to Taiwan's defence minister, who has warned of the risk of an accidental strike. Read more in BBC News. Professor Shaun Breslin, expert in Chinese International Relations, offers his comment:

"There is a feeling in the People's Republic of China (PRC) that the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen, has an independence agenda. Actually, Biden has been firmer in committing the US to the One China Principle than Trump, who broke diplomatic expectations by talking to Tsai (by phone) in 2016. Even so, I think there is also a feeling in Beijing that there is more sympathy for Taiwan in parts of the international community today now than in previous eras.

Prof Shaun Breslin

"Perhaps not outright support for Taiwanese independence, but for Taiwan to take part in more activities that were usually reserved for sovereign states and to gain a greater de facto international acceptance of being an international entity; and particularly, but not only, in DC.

"The PRC is committed to doing whatever it takes to prevent not just independence, but anything that looks like the de facto recognition of Taiwan as an independent entity. Shows of force like this are intended to communicate the PRCs commitment to doing whatever it takes to stop it happening, and show the real consequences of transformation. And it's a message that is being sent to Washington as much as it is to Taipei.

"And let’s not forget that 1 October was national day in the PRC; a day for the people to celebrate the party’s achievements in creating a new China after decades of western colonial subjugation, war with Japan, and civil war. And for China’s leaders the task of national reconstruction that this holiday celebrates remains incomplete while Taiwan remains separated from the mainland.

"The status quo is more or less okay for the time being. As long as it doesn't look as if Taiwan is moving towards even greater de facto independence then I think Beijing can live with this for a while. Xi really does seem to have an ambition to secure reunification at some point, so how long this “for a while” means is not clear (to me at least). Deng oversaw the process that saw Hong Kong and Macao returned to the PRC (even if he died before the actual transfers of sovereignty themselves); maybe Xi wants to be the man who finishes the job.

"But war is not impossible. And the more activity there is, the greater the chance that an accidental interaction might spark responses that lead to something else."

6 October 2021

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