China on Wednesday vowed zero tolerance for “separatist activities” in Taiwan and reaffirmed that it would take the self-ruled island by force if necessary.
The warning from Beijing, which considers Taiwan its territory, came after days of unprecedented Chinese military drills around the island sparked by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip.
Pelosi last week became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in decades despite stark threats from China, which tries to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday issued a white paper laying out how it intends to claim the island through a range of economic incentives and military pressure.
“We are ready to create vast space for peaceful reunification, but we will leave no room for separatist activities in any form,” said the paper.
China will “not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures”.
It added, however: “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines.”
China last issued a white paper on Taiwan in 2000.
The release came on the same day that a top Taiwan opposition politician flew to China for meetings with Taiwanese businesspeople, prompting condemnation from Taipei which had called on him to cancel the trip.
Andrew Hsia, deputy chairman of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, travelled to China in an unofficial capacity and did not visit the Chinese capital.
But President Tsai Ing-wen’s party criticised him for travelling across the Taiwan Strait as Chinese military drills continued around the island.
“Not only is the timing wrong and the stance confused, it’s also letting down the military, which is working hard to defend the country,” the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said in a statement on social media.
Since the late 1990s, the island has transformed from an autocracy into a vibrant democracy, and a distinct Taiwanese identity has emerged.
Relations between the two sides have significantly worsened since Tsai became president in 2016.
Tsai and her party do not consider Taiwan to be part of China.
Their platform falls under China’s broad definition of Taiwanese separatism, which includes those who advocate for the island to have an identity separate from the mainland.
– Invasion fears –
The Chinese white paper promised Taiwan economic prosperity as well as “greater security and dignity” after “reunification”.
But that offer comes in the shadow of the biggest military exercises China has ever conducted around the island, including training for a blockade.
The drills have raised fears that China’s Communist leadership could be preparing for an invasion.
The exercises were initially expected to conclude on Sunday, but continued this week.
China’s People’s Liberation Army on Wednesday morning released details of the exercises it conducted a day earlier.
The PLA’s Eastern Theatre command said the Tuesday drills focused on establishing air dominance, and it released video and photos of jet fighters taking off and conducting manoeuvres — including in-flight refuelling from a tanker.
The military later said it had “successfully completed various tasks”, without specifying whether more drills had been conducted on Wednesday or if there would be further exercises.
“The troops in the (Eastern) Theatre will keep a close eye on the changes in the situation in the Taiwan Strait, continue to carry out military training and prepare for war,” the PLA said.
Taiwan has accused China of using the Pelosi visit as an excuse to rehearse for an invasion.
It has conducted its own military drills to prepare for an attack on the island, and on Wednesday released footage of its air, land and sea forces responding to the Chinese exercises.
The Taiwanese drills prompted another Chinese warning on Tuesday.
Any attempt to “resist reunification through arms”, said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, “will end in failure like a mantis trying to stop a chariot”.