Yet once more we heard unwanted ripples in East Asia, during the first face-to-face meeting between China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore.
China views democratic, self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to one day seize the island, only 160 kms off the former’s southeast coast – by force, if necessary, with Washington-Beijing tensions rising in recent months.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry denounced China’s claims of its sovereignty as “absurd” and thanked the US for the show of support. “Taiwan has never been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government, and the people of Taiwan will not succumb to threats of force from the Chinese government,” said ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou.
Wei warned Austin that “if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian quoted the minister as saying during the meeting.
The Chinese minister vowed that Beijing would “smash to smithereens any ‘Taiwan independence’ plot and resolutely uphold the unification of the motherland,” according to the Chinese defense ministry.
He “stressed that Taiwan is China’s Taiwan… Using Taiwan to contain China will never prevail,” the ministry said.
Austin, the latest senior official to visit Asia as Washington seeks to shift its foreign policy focus back to the region from the Ukaraine-Russian war, for his part “reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the (Taiwan) Strait, opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo, and called on (China) to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan,” according to the US Department of Defense.
Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in particular due to increasing Chinese aircraft incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
US President Joe Biden, during a visit to Japan last month, appeared to break decades of US policy when, replying to reporters’ questions, he said Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it is attacked by China.
The White House has since insisted its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would intervene has not changed.
With concerns rising over China-Taiwan tensions, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also issued a clear-cut warning at the summit: “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”
This is where, as Kishida said, the world must be “prepared for the emergence of an entity that tramples on the peace and security of other countries by force or threat without honoring the rules,” he said.
While he did not mention China by name in his address, the Japanese head of government repeatedly called for the “rules-based international order” to be upheld.
Not only on Taiwan, China and the United States have been locked in a range of other disputes. They have been at loggerheads over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Washington accusing Beijing of providing tacit support for Moscow.
China has called for talks to end the war, but has stopped short of condemning Russia’s actions and has repeatedly criticised American arms donations to Ukraine.
China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea have also stoked tensions with Washington.
Beijing claims almost all of the resource-rich sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Cause for concern.