China war a disaster regardless of outcome: Taiwan’s defense minister

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A conflict with China, which threatens to invade Taiwan, would be a disaster for all sides regardless of the outcome, the island’s defense minister said Thursday.

China has largely backed Russia in invading Ukraine, a conflict that has echoes in Beijing’s approach to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that it claims as Chinese territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.

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“Nobody wants a war,” Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters. “It really has to be thoroughly thought over.”

“If you really went to war, it would be disastrous for all,” Chiu said. He said Taiwan’s defense establishment “watches and listens but we keep our mouths shut. We are following developments and preparing ourselves but we don’t openly discuss or debate.”

At the annual meetings of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, and its advisory body this week in Beijing, delegates criticized what they called foreign influence and separatism in Taiwan while increasing China’s legal and financial might to counter Taiwan support.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army delegation at the NPC said, “Separatist activities and collusion with external forces are the root cause of the current tension and disturbance in the Taiwan Strait.”

Col. Wu Qian blamed Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, adding that, “The more the United States and Japan make waves on the Taiwan question, the tougher actions we will take to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Wu also defended a defense budget increase, saying China has “maintained reasonable and steady growth to tackle complex security challenges and fulfill China’s responsibility as a major country.”

Separately, a member of the advisory body to China’s ceremonial legislature proposed strengthening a 2005 secession law spelling out the grounds for an attack on Taiwan. Zhang Liangqi said new legislation was needed to target those promoting Taiwan’s formal and permanent independence from China, from which it split during a civil war in 1949.

In what it calls a warning to Taiwan independence supporters and their foreign allies, China has been staging threatening exercises and flying military planes near the island’s airspace, including on Feb. 24, the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Despite that, Chinese officials including leader Xi Jinping say they are committed to using peaceful means to bring Taiwan under Beijing’s control. The US has consistently expressed its support for ensuring that Taiwan can defend itself, and Chinese military action against the island in the short to medium term is generally considered a remote possibility.

However, the Russian experience in Ukraine is being closely studied by Beijing for lessons about the power of local resistance, the response of the international community and other factors, said Justyna Sczcudlik, a China analyst with the Polish Institute of International Affairs.

“I think definitely this Ukraine-Russia war is a lesson for China about Taiwan, and Ukraine is to some extent perceived as a European ‘Taiwan issue,’” Sczcudlik said.

“There are many differences, but I think that China really looks at this war through the prism of the Taiwan issue,” she said.

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