A top Taiwanese security official claims China internally debated attacking Taiwan’s Pratas Islands, in a move that could spark a full-scale conflict.
A top Taiwanese security official claims China internally debated attacking Taiwan’s Pratas Islands, but opted against doing so before 2024.
National Security Bureau director-general Chen Ming-tong did not reveal how Taiwan knew such a move had been debated or why it would not happen before 2024, when President Tsai Ing-wen’s term ends, Reuters reported.
Beijing has yet to respond to the claims.
Mr Chen made the comments in a Taiwanese parliamentary meeting on Thursday, in response to a question from a member of the country’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, about whether China would attack before the end of President Tsai’s second term.
The Pratas Islands are located about 400km from mainland Taiwan and about 310km southeast of Hong Kong.
Taiwan has long feared the lightly defended, mostly uninhabited location is vulnerable to attack from China.
“Attacking and capturing the Pratas Islands – this scenario where war is being used to force [Taiwan into] talks – our assessment is that this will not happen during President Tsai’s tenure,” Mr Chen was reported as telling the meeting.
“Frankly speaking, they have internally debated this before. We obviously have some understanding.”
Taiwan lives under the constant threat of invasion by China, which views the self-ruled democratic island as its territory to be seized one day, by force if necessary.
Mr Chen said while tensions were high with China were higher than in the past, “in the next one, two, three years, within President Tsai’s tenure, it won’t happen”.
It comes after Chinese state media earlier this week sought to quash online rumours about a looming war with Taiwan, in an apparent bid to tone down the heated rhetoric.
Last month, the country’s Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said tensions between China and Taiwan were at their highest in four decades.
Mr Chiu made the comments after record numbers of Chinese warplanes made incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone, often into the southwestern part near the Pratas Islands.
“For the military, the current situation is the grimmest in the more than 40 years since I joined the service,” Mr Chiu told parliament.
He warned that even “slight carelessness” or “miscalculation” could spark a crisis, and that China would be able to launch an invasion of the island by 2025.
“It is capable now but it has to calculate what it would cost, and what kind of outcome it wishes to achieve,” Mr Chiu said.
China-Taiwan ties have plunged since President Tsai took office in 2016, as she views the island as a de facto sovereign nation and not part of Chinese territory.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon’s top general said the United States military “absolutely” has the ability to defend Taiwan from an attack by China if called on to do so.
“We absolutely have the capability to do all kinds of things around the world, to include that if required,” Mark Milley, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, told the Aspen Security Forum.
“We absolutely have the capability. There’s no question about that.”
General Milley said he did not expect China would take military action against Taiwan in the next 24 months.
“Having said that, though, the Chinese are clearly and unambiguously building the capability to provide those options to the national leadership if they so choose at some point in the future,” he said.
He also warned that China’s military had made stunning technological advances in a short time, signified by its recent globe-circling hypersonic missile test, leaving the world poised to enter an era of increased strategic instability.
“We are witnessing one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed,” he said.
General Milley reiterated the United States’ long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity” about what it would do if the Chinese military sought to seize control of the island.
President Joe Biden last month sparked fury from Beijing after stating at a town hall event that America would defend Taiwan if China attacked.
“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” he said.
Officially the US follows the “One China” policy, which means it has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Under the Taiwan Relations Act, however, the US sells arms to the self-governing nation of 24 million for the purpose of self-defence.
The White House quickly back-pedalled, saying that the President’s comments did not signify any change in policy.
“The US defence relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” a spokesman said.
“We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defence, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, General Milley said the US believed the differences between China and Taiwan should be resolved peacefully based on the will of the people on both sides.
“We are just interested in a peaceful outcome,” General Milley said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Thursday responded to General Milley’s comments, accusing the US of emboldening Taiwanese “separatist forces” and heightening tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
“No one should underestimate China‘s firm determination and will to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity – we will never allow anyone or any force to separate Taiwan from the motherland in any way,” he said.
“The US should pursue a real One China policy, instead of a fake one, fulfil its commitments to China faithfully rather than treacherously, truly implement the One China policy and put it into action, instead of saying one thing and doing the opposite.”
It came as the head of a visiting European Parliament delegation further angered China on Thursday by declaring Taiwan’s democracy “a treasure” to be protected, vowing to stand with the island.
Led by French MEP Raphael Glucksmann, a vocal China critic who was among five politicians sanctioned by Beijing in March, the group has been described as the first “official” delegation to Taipei from the European Parliament despite Chinese opposition.
Mr Glucksmann called Taiwan’s democracy “a treasure that all democrats around the world should cherish and protect”.
“We came here with a very simple, very clear message – you are not alone,” he said as the delegation met with Taiwan’s President Tsai on Thursday.
“Europe is standing with you … in the defence of freedom and the defence of rule of law and human dignity,” he said, urging the European Union to step up co-operation with Taiwan.
President Tsai tweeted her thanks to the delegates on Thursday, saying an EU-Taiwan “partnership will help us better address these common threats and protect our shared democratic values”.
Originally published as China reportedly debated attacking Taiwan’s Pratas Islands