On Saturday the 2nd of October, Taiwan announced a scrambling of its fighter jets following the largest-ever incursion of Chinese aircraft into its airspace. As Beijing celebrated the founding of the People’s Republic of China, 38 aircraft flew through Taiwanese airspace in two waves, including two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers. The Taiwan Defence Ministry reportedly sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft during both incursions, and deployed missile systems to monitor the situation. This move comes shortly after China’s ‘Taiwan Affairs Council’ launched a furious attack against the Taiwanese foreign minister, calling him a “shrilling” fly and a liar.
Both events underscore a wider deterioration in relation between the two nations. Taiwan’s own Mainland Affairs Council called Friday’s comments about the foreign minister “slander and abuse.” It is further stated by the council, “This kind of verbal violence, unprecedented in the international community, only highlights the overstepping of the rules of the Taiwan-related body on the other side of the Taiwan Strait and how far away it is from civilized society.” Meanwhile, Saturday’s incursion has been interpreted by Taiwanese politicians as part of a wider campaign of aggression from Beijing. “China has been wantonly engaged in military aggression, damaging regional peace,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters following the matter.
Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), has a contentious history with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Both groups consider themselves the successor to the 1911 Revolution which overthrew the Qing dynasty and ended over two millennia of imperial rule in China. However, the beginning of the Chinese Civil War in 1927 saw forces from the ROC government and the Chinese Communist Party engaging in intermittent combat until 1949, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, based in Beijing. Remaining forces of the Republic of China retreated from the mainland to the island of Taiwan where it continued to style itself as the legitimate government of the region. The ROC maintained a delegation at the United Nations until 1971, when General Assembly Resolution 2758 instead recognized the PRC as the legitimate government. The end result is that two governing bodies – the PRC, and the ROC – have claims to being the legitimate government of mainland China, Taiwan, and associated islands. Each claim de jure sovereignty whilst denying the other’s legitimacy. The PRC maintains its belief that Taiwan is a province of China, with war being the outcome should Taiwan attempt to secede in any manner (or should all possibility of peaceful unification be lost).
While the latest incursions could have one worried about war, it is important to note that fear of a PRC-led invasion of Taiwan has existed for as long as the ongoing situation. Throughout the early years of the Cold War, the United States prepared for conflict over the island of ‘Formosa’ (Taiwan) and continued to support the Taipei government. Some analysts believe that the recently hostile relationship between Taipei and Beijing is not representative of the PRC’s aggression, but instead of the deteriorating relationship between Beijing and the United States – the U.S. and its allies have recently been reasserting their presence in the Indo-Pacific in attempt to contain the apparent threat of Chinese hegemony. As such, war itself does not seem to be the likely outcome, but it is still unnerving to see such wanton aggression. Beijing should step back and recognize that the Taipei government has been functionally independent for some time. The PRC cannot expect to suddenly assert dominance over a region that has, for the better part of 80 years, followed its own path. Any attempts to do so, particularly through force, will likely be met with wider conflict – an undesirable outcome.
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