Jan 28, 2022 - World

China's ambassador warns Taiwan could spark "military conflict" with U.S.

China's ambassador to the US
Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China's ambassador to the U.S. warned in a rare interview with NPR that if Taiwanese authorities "keep going down the road for independence," it would "most likely" lead to a "military conflict" between the U.S. and China.

Why it matters: Chinese officials rarely speak in such blunt terms, but veteran diplomat Qin Gang was unequivocal: "The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States."

Context: China views Taiwan, a self-governing, democratic island, as a rebellious province that must be brought back under mainland control — either by peaceful unification or by force.

  • The current government of Taiwan supports the ambiguous status quo rather than formal independence, but has infuriated Beijing by seeking to strengthen its ties with other countries and participate in international bodies.
  • Qin claimed in his interview with NPR that Taiwan has been "emboldened by the United States," which maintains a policy of "strategic ambiguity" on whether it would go to war with China to defend the island from an invasion.

Driving the news: Qin's interview, the first with a U.S. journalist since he took office last July, came days after China flew 39 warplanes through Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) — the largest incursion since October.

The big picture: The U.S. and other Western countries have led a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, set to kick off next Friday, over China's genocide of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

  • More than 1 million Uyghurs are believed to have passed through mass internment camps, where they have reportedly been subjected to forced labor, forced sterilization and other atrocities.
  • Qin called the allegations of repression "fabrications, lies and disinformation," claiming that Uyghurs "enjoy happy life" like all other citizens of China.
  • He told NPR that some Uyghurs are terrorists and "the destination for them is prisons," while asserting that others who have been influenced by extremist thoughts had been sent to "vocational schools" for an "opportunity to change."
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