Aug 16, 2022 - World

China's ambassador warns U.S. of Taiwan consequences in rare briefing

Ambassador Qin Gang. Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

China will view further U.S. arms sales, official travel to Taiwan or naval activity near the self-governing island as provocations that will further destabilize relations and prevent progress on other issues, Beijing's ambassador to the U.S. warned Tuesday.

Why it matters: Ambassador Qin Gang said if Washington doesn’t "show restraint" in the wake of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, there will be "another round of tensions" — and no dialogue on issues like climate change and nuclear security.

State of play: China conducted weeklong military drills after Pelosi's trip earlier this month. They appeared to be a dress rehearsal for subduing Taiwan and involved newly aggressive steps, like disregarding the median line between Taiwan and the mainland.

  • After Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) led another delegation to Taipei on Sunday, China launched a fresh set of smaller-scale exercises.
  • The White House contends that China is using Pelosi's visit as a pretext to change the status quo and "intimidate and coerce Taiwan."
  • Qin cited his own frantic efforts to prevent the visit — using "every channel possible," he said — as evidence that China had no desire for such a pretext.

Still, both sides acknowledge that tensions over Taiwan are escalating dangerously and poisoning the broader relationship.

  • Qin said the One China Principle — which asserts that there is only one Chinese state and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China — must be the basis of all U.S.-China relations.
  • Without that "foundation" in place, he said, talks like those President Biden has proposed on nuclear security cannot proceed.
  • Longstanding U.S. policy is to acknowledge China's claims over Taiwan, but neither accept them nor back Taiwan's independence.

Setting the scene: Speaking to small group of reporters in Washington, Qin spoke on-the-record for 80 minutes, fielding questions on a range of sensitive issues — something of a rarity for senior Chinese officials.

  • He rarely strayed far from a set of talking points — which, in the case of Taiwan, were strikingly hawkish — but did concede that Beijing has work to do to improve its image in both Taiwan and in the U.S., where he said "fear of China" was prevalent.

What's next: The U.S. plans to send naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait in the coming weeks and to approve additional arms sales to Taiwan.

  • Those steps would be consistent with the practices of past administrations, but Qin warned that China would see them as an escalation of tensions and be "forced to react."

What to watch: Qin reiterated that Taiwan must be reunified with mainland China, but said he found recent reporting that the timeline for a potential invasion is growing shorter to be "baseless."

  • Unification will occur peacefully if possible and by force if necessary, Qin said, though he said Beijing only held out the latter option to deter "separatism" in Taiwan or "foreign intervention."
  • Taiwan could even remain a democracy under the "One Country, Two Systems" principle, Qin said. But he also claimed One Country, Two Systems was alive and well in Hong Kong, despite Beijing's reassertion of direct control there. He also made it clear whose system would take precedence after reunification: "If there’s no One Country, there can be no Two Systems."
  • Asked about a comment by China's ambassador to France that China will pursue "reeducation" in Taiwan after reunification, Qin said that Beijing had to "reinforce our [shared] national identity."

Worth noting: Qin rejected the idea that Biden — who said publicly that the U.S. military felt Pelosi's visit was "not a good idea" — hadn't sanctioned Pelosi's visit.

  • He argued that the administration had "accommodated" the trip, and that Congress "is not an independent, uncontrollable branch, according to international law" (though it is, of course, under the U.S. Constitution).
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