BEIJING — China is prepared to “resolutely smash any form of Taiwan independence,” its military said Tuesday, as the U.S. reportedly prepares to accelerate the sale of defensive weapons and other military assistance to the self-governing island democracy.
A recent increase in exchanges between the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries is an “extremely wrong and dangerous move,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Tan Kefei said in a statement and video posted online.
China’s People’s Liberation Army “continues to strengthen military training and preparations and will resolutely smash any form of Taiwanese independence secession along with attempts at outside interference, and will resolutely defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Tan said, in a reference to Taiwan’s closest ally, the United States.
China claims the island of 23 million people as its own territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.
With the world’s largest navy, latest-generation fighter jets and a huge arsenal of ballistic missiles, China has been upping its threats by sending planes and warships into waters and airspace around Taiwan. With more than 2 million members, the PLA also ranks as the world’s largest standing military, although transporting even a portion of the force in the event of an invasion is considered a huge logistical challenge.
Along with daily air and sea incursions around Taiwan, Beijing has held military exercises in and around the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides, seen in part as a rehearsal for a blockade or invasion that would have massive consequences for security and economies worldwide.
Such actions seek to harass Taiwan’s military and intimidate politicians and voters who will choose a new president and legislature next year.
The moves appear to have had limited effect, with most Taiwanese firmly in favor of maintaining their de facto independent status. Politicians and other public figures from Europe and the U.S. have also been making frequent trips to Taipei to show their support, despite their countries’ lack of formal diplomatic ties in deference to Beijing.
Tan’s comments were prompted by a question from an unidentified reporter about reports that U.S. President Joe Biden is preparing to approve the sale of $500 million in arms to Taiwan, as well as sending more than 100 military personnel to evaluate training methods and offer suggestions for improving the island’s defenses.
Taiwan enjoys strong support from both the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties, which have called on the Biden administration to follow through on nearly $19 billion in military items approved for sale but not yet delivered to Taiwan.
Administration officials have blamed the delayed deliveries on bottlenecks in production related to issues from the COVID-19 pandemic to limited capacity and increased demand for arms to assist Ukraine. Biden’s move would allow the export of items from existing U.S. military stockpiles, speeding up the delivery of at least some of the hardware Taiwan needs to deter or repel any Chinese attack.
Among the items on backorder are Harpoon anti-ship missiles, F-16 fighter jets, shoulder-fired Javelin and Stinger missiles and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, a multiple rocket and missile launcher mounted on a truck that has become a crucial weapon for Ukrainian troops battling Russian invasion forces.
Tan’s comments were in line with Beijing’s standard tone on what it calls the “core of China’s core interests.” The two sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949 and Beijing considers bringing Taiwan under its control as key to asserting its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Attempts to “seek independence by relying on the United States” and “seek independence by military might” are a “dead end,” Tan said.
With China-U.S. relations at a historic low and Taiwanese unreceptive to Beijing’s demands for political concessions on unification, concerns are rising about the likelihood of an open conflict involving all three sides and possibly U.S. treaty allies such as Japan.
China’s diplomatic and economic support for Russia following its invasion of Ukraine has also increased tensions with Washington. Beijing is believed to be closely studying Moscow’s military failures in the conflict, while the Western will to back Kyiv is seen by some as a test of its determination to side with Taiwan in the event of a conflict with China.