SINGAPORE: Beijing will “not hesitate to start a war” if Taiwan declares independence, China’s defence minister warned his US counterpart on Friday, the latest salvo between the superpowers over the island.

The warning from Wei Fenghe came as he held his first face-to-face meeting with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore.

Beijing has vowed to one day seize Taiwan, by force if necessary, and US-China tensions over the issue have soared in recent months.

Wei warned Austin that “if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost”, defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian quoted the minister as saying during the meeting.

The Chinese minister vowed that Beijing would “smash to smithereens any `Taiwan independence’ plot and resolutely uphold the unification of the motherland”, according to the Chinese defence ministry.

He “stressed that Taiwan is China’s Taiwan... Using Taiwan to contain China will never prevail”, the ministry said.

Lloyd Austin “reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the (Taiwan) Strait, opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo, and called on (China) to refrain from further destabilising actions toward Taiwan”, according to the US Department of Defence.

Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in particular due to increasing Chinese aircraft incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

Strategic ambiguity

The White House has since insisted its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would intervene has not changed.

Austin is the latest senior US official to visit Asia as Washington seeks to shift its foreign policy focus back to the region from the Ukraine war.

As well as on Taiwan, China and the United States have been locked in a range of other disputes.

They have been at loggerheads over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Washington accusing Beijing of providing tacit support for Moscow.

China has called for talks to end the war, but has stopped short of condemning Russia’s actions and has repeatedly criticised American arms donations to Ukraine.

China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea have also stoked tensions with Washington.

Beijing claims almost all of the resource-rich sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Austin arrived in Singapore late on Thursday, and held a series of meetings with his counterparts on Friday.

At a meeting with Southeast Asian defence ministers, he spoke about Washington’s “strategy in maintaining an open, inclusive and rules-based regional security environment”, according to a statement from the Singapore government.

Published in Dawn,June 11th, 2022

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