Fears China is planning to attack Taiwan may be overblown, leading scholar says

·4 min read

Concerns that China is planning to attack Taiwan may be misplaced, according to a leading Chinese scholar.

"I should say that I am very concerned about the Taiwan issue, but I have not heard any senior Chinese government officials talking about reunification by force, nor have I heard of a timetable for them to use armed forces to solve the Taiwan issue," Wang Jisi, an international relations professor at Peking University, told academics and diplomats at the World Peace Forum hosted by Tsinghua University on Monday.

"There are people in the US who are playing up this [concern], and I wonder if this kind of advocacy is a bit presumptuous or mischievous. I do have this concern that some people want to pull China and the US into a war, and this is something we need to avoid."

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Wang, who said tensions over Taiwan had become "very high", also told a panel discussion about how to stabilise relations between China and the US: "We certainly hope to avoid war but I cannot say for sure that there will not be a war between China and the US in the near future.

"If there is a war between the two sides, the greatest danger is in the Taiwan Strait, because the Taiwan issue has been the core and the most sensitive issue in Sino-US relations."

Wang noted that Beijing and Washington had gone through previous crises over Taiwan, including one in 1995 after Washington granted Lee Teng-hui, the then Taiwanese president, a visa to visit the US.

Beijing responded by recalling its ambassador to the US for consultation, cancelled a defence ministers' meeting, and test-fired six missiles into waters about 100 miles from Taiwan.

Officials in Beijing have criticised Washington's increasingly close relationship with the island and its sales of defence equipment. Meanwhile US officials, including Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, have repeatedly warned against provocations after the People's Liberation Army stepped up activity around the island.

James Stapleton Roy, the US ambassador to China between 1991 and 1995, also expressed concern about the risk of a war breaking out over Taiwan, saying the two sides may be distracted because of major domestic events later this year.

Taiwan is seen as the most likely trigger point for a war between the US and China. Photo: AP alt=Taiwan is seen as the most likely trigger point for a war between the US and China. Photo: AP>

China is expected to see a major leadership reshuffle at this autumn's Communist Party congress, while the US midterm elections are held in early November.

Roy also expressed concern Taiwan would become "a strategic pawn" between the two powers, saying: "When we established diplomatic relations [in 1979], Taiwan was neutralised - the US couldn't use it against the mainland, and the mainland couldn't use Taiwan against the United States, but that situation is changing and that's a very dangerous potential change, and we need to stabilise that situation."

Wang said concerns over a war over Taiwan also made the need for engagement more important than ever, saying they had benefited from this in the past.

He cited the example of President Xi Jinping's state visit to the US in 2015, when Beijing sent its top security official for Beijing 10 days beforehand to discuss cybersecurity - a major concern for the White House at the time - to ensure the visit was a success.

But he noted that, despite a less formal visit to Florida, Xi had not made a state visit to the US since then, while the last such visit by a US president was Donald Trump in 2017.

He also urged the two sides to resume diplomatic interactions that have largely been frozen since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

"The more pressing issue now is that flights between China and the US should return to normal so that diplomats of both countries and the missions of both countries can carry out more normal activities, which I think is very useful to prevent strategic miscalculation and to understand the real thoughts of the other side," he said.

He also said business had a role to play. "If we have many specific issues to resolve, it is important to enhance mutual exchanges through diplomatic contacts, not only between diplomats, but also between commercial officials and between enterprises."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.