Chinese Defense Secretary Wei Fenghe warned his U.S. counterpart Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during their first face-to-face meeting on Friday that China won’t hesitate to start a war if Taiwan fully declares independence from the Chinese mainland.
Wei met with Austin on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore during which he said, “if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost,” Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian told AFP.
While Taiwan governs itself as an independent nation, China considers the island a part of its territory. The Taiwanese government websites describe the island as a sovereign and independent state, but it does not have the recognition of the United Nations.
The U.S. maintains a strategically ambiguous position toward Taiwan. The U.S. acknowledges the People’s Republic of China’s so-called “One-China” policy that Taiwan and the Chinese mainland are one country. The U.S. also considers the PRC to be the legitimate government of China. At the same time, the U.S. continues informal relations with Taiwan and frequently sells the island weapons and military equipment.
Wei told Austin that China would “smash to smithereens any ‘Taiwan independence’ plot and resolutely uphold the unification of the motherland.”
Wei also appeared to warn the U.S. against supporting the Taiwanese independence movements.
“Using Taiwan to contain China will never prevail,” Wei said, according to the Chinese defense ministry account.
According to a U.S. Department of Defense account of their meeting, Austin “remains committed to our longstanding One-China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act.” At the same time, Austin “reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Strait, opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo, and called on the PRC to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan.”
The U.S. position on Taiwan remains complicated. Austin’s meeting with Wei comes on the same week that the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced a request to transfer $120 million in “Ship Spare Parts, Ship System Spare Parts, and related equipment.”
On May 28, the U.S. Statement Department updated a fact sheet on its relations with China to reinstate the line “we do not support Taiwan independence.” The line had appeared in a prior version of the document dated Aug. 31, 2018, but was removed in a May 5, 2022 update.
When asked on May 23 if the U.S. would be “willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that,” Biden replied, “Yes, that’s the commitment we made.” Almost immediately after his remarks, a White House official almost moved to say Biden was not communicating any change in policy towards Taiwan.