South China Sea warning: All-out war fears erupt as Beijing rejects Taiwan peace plan

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, the former Foreign Secretary warned China abandoned “peaceful” plans to reunify with Taiwan and may be on the verge of deploying military action against the neighbouring country as tensions erupt in the hotly contested South China Sea. Jeremy Hunt claimed the ongoing protests in Hong Kong may speed up the Chinese Communist Party’s plans to end Taiwain’s ambitions of becoming a fully independent state. 

He warned: “We shouldn’t underestimate the resolve of the west but I think it’s right to point to Taiwan as the biggest risk because one of the reasons that the one country two systems deal has held for over 20 years is because Beijing wanted to offer that same formula to Taiwan and achieve peaceful reunification.

“They can’t make that offer to the people of Taiwan with any credibility if they’re dismantling it in Hong Kong.

“So I think the biggest worry of all in the current situation is that Beijing might have abandoned the prospect of peaceful reunification and be looking at military options.”

He added: “I’m not saying this is likely to happen any time soon but let’s remember this Government in China thinks a very long time ahead. They made it very clear they want to reunify with Taiwan by 2049 and only last month, the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, for the first time, when he was talking about reunification with Taiwan, dropped the word ‘peaceful’.

“So I think we have to listen very carefully to what the Chinese leadership is saying.”

It comes as last week, China warned it will attack Taiwan if there is no other way of halting its bid for independence.

One of the country’s most senior generals issued the chilling threat as Beijing ramped up its rhetoric against the democratic island Beijing claims as its own.

Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 15th anniversary of the Anti-Secession Law, Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department and member of the Central Military Commission, refused to rule out the use of military force to quell any uprising.

The 2005 law gives the country the legal basis for military action against Taiwan if it secedes or seems about to, making the narrow Taiwan Strait a potential military flashpoint in the South China Sea.

Gen Li said: “If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost, the people’s armed forces will, with the whole nation, including the people of Taiwan, take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions.

“We do not promise to abandon the use of force, and reserve the option to take all necessary measures, to stabilise and control the situation in the Taiwan Strait.”

Although China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, it is rare for a top, serving military officer to so explicitly make the threat in a public setting.

The comments are especially striking amid international opprobrium over China passing new national security legislation for Chinese-run Hong Kong.

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Taiwan’s government denounced the comments, saying that threats of war were a violation of international law and that Taiwan has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said: “Taiwan’s people will never choose dictatorship nor bow to violence.

“Force and unilateral decisions are not the way to resolve problems.”

Gen Li is one of China’s few senior officers with combat experience, having taken part in China’s ill-fated invasion of Vietnam in 1979.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing says it is a Chinese province, and has denounced the Trump administration’s support for the island.

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