Taiwan has pledged to defend its democracy against an increasingly aggressive China, with the island’s president warning that there will be “catastrophic consequences” for peace should the country fall to China.
The comments were made by Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen in an essay published in Foreign Affairs on Tuesday as she made an urgent appeal to the international community to help the island defend itself against Chinese aggression.
Urging democracies to help the island defend its independence, she said that other democracies “should remember that if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system. It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy.”
Tsai Ing-wen’s remarks come amid record-breaking incursions by Chinese warplanes into its air defence zone.
Taiwan’s defence ministry warned this week that China will be fully capable of invading the island by 2025, in the government’s first clear message to the public that the country faces the threat of war.
Chiu-Kuo-cheng, the country’s defence minister, issued the warning after almost 150 Chinese warplanes operated in international airspace near Taiwan between Monday and Friday.
The Defence Minister’s warning comes as Beijing said war could be triggered “at any moment” in a stark warning to the West after China launched into a tirade against the US and its allies on Monday.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said it detected at least 56 Chinese war planes crossing into Taiwan’s air defence zone hours after the US urged Beijing to cease ‘provocative’ activity.
“The current situation is really the most dangerous I have seen in my more than 40 years in the military,” Chiu said in a question-and-answer session with lawmakers about a large-scale special defence budget for anti-ship missiles and warships.
Chiu said that relations between Taiwan and China have now plummeted to a 40-year low.
“If they want to attack now, they are already capable. But they have to calculate at what cost it would come and what results it would have,” he said.
Chiu said he feared that by “2025, China will bring the cost and attrition to its lowest”.
“From 2025, they will already have lowered the cost and the losses to the lowest possible level, so . . . they will have the complete capability,” he said.
“For me as a military man, the urgency is right in front of me,” the country’s defence minister added.
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s premier, Su Tseng-chang said that the “over the top” activity by China violated regional peace, and Taiwan must be on alert.
Over the past year, Beijing has substantially increased air and naval operations close to Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s defence ministry, 672 Chinese warplanes have flown into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone this year alone. That figure far surpasses the 380 recorded in 2020.
In response to the increase in activity, some US officials and experts have mimimized the significance of the People’s Liberation Army flights, arguing that they were not the prelude to war but rather were aimed at intimidating Taiwan and wearing down its air force.
Despite this, there are mounting concerns in Washington. Back in March, Admiral Philip Davidson, who was then head of the US Indo-Pacific command, told Congress that China may attack Taiwan within 6 years.
It has been speculated that other US commanders have privately expressed worries that China might act more quickly than most Chinese military experts believe.
Despite concerns, Taiwan’s government has long been of the view that open discussions about preparing for a Chinese attack would damage public morale.
This approach has been the consistent source of criticism from some US officials and experts who regard the country as being complacent and doing little to boost its defences against China.
Chiu said that Taiwan’s military is not prepared for full-scale conflict.
“Our ability to deal with normal situations daily is absolutely there — having prepared for war for so many years, we are combat-ready,” he said.
“But now the situation is extremely severe, so we must strengthen our capabilities quickly.”
Escalating concerns about Taiwan come as Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, is set to meet Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, in Switzerland today (Wednesday October 6).
Some sources have said that the possibility of Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping holding a virtual summit in the coming months is being explored.