China Says Taiwan Exaggerating Threat as General Accused of Declaring War

China said Wednesday that Taiwan was overstating the threat of military aggression after Taipei accused a senior Chinese general of declaring war in a public address over the weekend.

Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) in Beijing, said his counterparts at the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) in Taipei were distorting China's policy on Taiwan, "hyping up the mainland's so-called military threat and exposing their sinister intention to internationalise the Taiwan issue."

China General Accused of Declaring War—Taiwan
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe addresses the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 12, 2022. Taiwan accused the Chinese general of announcing a “declaration of war” after he said China would “fight to the very end” if Taiwan were to declare formal independence. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

The People's Republic of China (PRC) has maintained a decades-long claim to Taiwan, despite having never governed the island since Chinese Communist Party leaders established the country in 1949. Taiwan, which has been ruled by the Republic of China (ROC) government since 1945, argues it's already an independent state, albeit one with limited recognition.

The PRC and the ROC don't recognize each other's legitimacy and communicate through the TAO and MAC instead of their respective foreign ministries.

Officials in Taipei responded at length on Sunday after Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that China would "not hesitate to fight" if Taiwan were to pursue de jure independence.

"We will fight at all costs. We will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China," Wei said.

In a statement carried by the local press, the MAC said Wei's public intimidation of Taiwan was "a declaration of war in complete defiance of the principle of peace in international relations." The address "proved the Beijing authorities to be the root cause of serious instability in the region."

Ma, Wei and others in Beijing frame the Taiwan Strait dispute as a remnant of the Chinese Civil War and therefore an internal matter. Officials in Taipei, on the other hand, say political differences can only be resolved if Beijing acknowledges the ROC's existence and the will of the Taiwanese people.

Wei's remarks, which have become a hallmark of Chinese foreign policy under President Xi Jinping, were not new in substance, but they did carry an important message: Beijing, despite refusing to rule out the use of force, hasn't given up on the prospect of what it calls the "peaceful unification" of Taiwan under the Hong Kong-style "one country, two systems" model of governance.

From Taipei's perspective, however, China's continued inflamed rhetoric and military intimidation amount to an attempt at "coerced unification" at the very least. In its reply, the MAC said Taiwan remained determined to defend itself, and would work with international partners to "curb the ambitions and delusions of the aggressor."

The most vocal of those partners is the United States, which dispatched Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Singapore to back Taipei in his address at Asia's premier defense forum over the weekend.

Austin noted "growing coercion from Beijing" during his remarks on Saturday. "We've witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan. And that includes [People's Liberation Army] aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months—and nearly on a daily basis."

"We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the PRC's moves threaten to undermine security and stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific," he said. "And that's crucial for this region, and it's crucial for the wider world. Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn't just a U.S. interest. It's a matter of international concern."