China Hints at Own Special Military Operation for Taiwan

A forceful takeover of Taiwan by Chinese forces wouldn't be considered an "invasion" because Taiwan is part of its territory, one of Beijing's senior diplomats said this week.

Xiao Qian, Beijing's top envoy in Canberra, told ABC Australia's current affairs program 7.30 that China would prefer a peaceful political union with Taiwan in the future, but it reserves the option to use "unpeaceful means."

Asked whether that entailed "a full-scale military invasion," Xiao told 7.30's Sarah Ferguson: "I would not use the word 'invasion.' Taiwan is part of China. 'Invasion' is for relations between nations."

China Ambassador Rejects Taiwan 'Invasion' Scenario
President Xi Jinping of China delivers a speech in Hong Kong at the inauguration ceremony of the city’s new leader and government on July 1, 2022, on the 25th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. The Chinese government’s plans for Taiwan include a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” model of nominal semi-autonomy. SELIM CHTAYTI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The ambassador's interview, which aired on September 6, suggested the Chinese government would frame a hypothetical attack on Taiwan in a different way, similar to Russia's use of "special military operation" to portray its invasion of Ukraine. Beijing, incidentally, also objects to the word "invasion" to describe the ongoing conflict, and rarely uses the term "war."

Some of China's more hawkish publications and commentators choose "liberation" when discussing Beijing's designs on Taiwan. The same word was applied to Chinese takeovers of Xinjiang and Tibet more than seven decades ago.

At an event hosted by the National Press Club of Australia in August, Xiao told an audience of journalists and think tank experts: "We are waiting for a peaceful unification. But we can never rule out our option to use other means."

"So when necessary, when compelled, we are ready to use all necessary means. As to what does it mean—by all necessary means? You can use your imagination," he said.

In Tuesday's interview, Xiao cited elements of China's 2005 anti-secession law—devised by President Xi Jinping's predecessor, Hu Jintao, as a pretext to take Taiwan by force—as reasons that might compel Beijing to move on the democratic island in the future.

Among the scenarios, the diplomat said, were if "the possibilities for peaceful unification should be completely exhausted."

Pressed by Ferguson, Xiao also downplayed recent comments by Lu Shaye, China's ambassador to France, who said the Taiwanese public would require "reeducation" after being "reunified" with the mainland.

Xiao said the comments referred to the learning of Chinese language and history instead. "I would not use the word 'reeducation.' It carries a very complicated meaning."

The ambassador rejected the results of a long-term survey on the Taiwanese public's political attitudes toward China as potentially misleading. "[An] opinion poll sometimes doesn't tell the facts," he said.

A July poll by National Chengchi University's Election Study Center in Taipei found only 6.5 percent of Taiwan's public was interested in some form of union with China, while 82.1 percent said they would either prefer a separate political existence or at least decide at a later, unspecified date.

The center has been tracking Taiwan's political preferences for nearly three decades, since 1994.

Xiao, however, continued Beijing's framing of the phenomenon as led by only "a handful of people." "For those secessionists, it's not a question of reeducate. They're going to be punished according to law," he told Ferguson.

Taiwan, which considers itself a functionally independent state, rejects Beijing's claim of sovereignty over the island. Beijing has never governed Taiwan since the People's Republic of China was founded by the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.