China Will 'Start a Just War' If U.S. Troops Return to Taiwan, State-affiliated Media Warns

The editor of China's state-backed Global Times newspaper has taken aim at an article published in the professional journal of the U.S. army which calls for a return of American forces to Taiwan.

Hu Xijn tweeted his disdain at the piece written by Capt. Walker D. Mills, from the U.S. Marine Corps in the latest edition of Military Review.

In the piece, Mills says that the regional balance of power in East Asia is shifting away from the United States and Taiwan and towards mainland China. In his view, this meant that the U.S. needed to consider basing ground forces on the island "if it is committed to defending Taiwanese sovereignty."

The article headlined "Deterring the Dragon," has Mills warning that the current power balance made a surprise attack on Taiwan "more likely" and believes that American leadership has to "face down" international pressure "against a deliberate and more global conflict with China."

"If Chinese forces can prevent U.S. forces from responding reflexively or immediately to PLA (People's Liberation Army) aggression, the United States will either accede to a quick PLA victory in a Taiwanese-mainland China conflict or be forced to wage a long, costly campaign to re-establish access to Taiwan with a far from certain outcome," Mills wrote.

Hu, who edits the paper owned by the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) official publication but reflects a more hawkish Chinese government view, tweeted the headline of the article with the comment: "I must warn people in the U.S. and Taiwan who hold this kind of thinking.

"Once they take the step of returning U.S. forces to Taiwan, the PLA will definitely start a just war to safeguard China's territorial integrity. China's Anti-Secession Law is a tiger with teeth," Hu added, referring to the law ratified in 2005 which formalizes Beijing's intentions to act if Taiwan declared independence.

The comments by Hu come during a week in which Taiwan warned China to back off after Beijing conducted large military drills and sent fighter jets over the midway point of the strategic Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan military drills
Two U.S.-made AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the annual Han Kuang military drills in Taichung on July 16. Tensions have been growing in the Taiwan Strait after Beijing conducted large military drills there. Sam Yeh/Getty Images

Taiwan's defense ministry condemned what it called "harassment and threats" from the mainland, where the CCP wants to absorb the democratic island under its "One China" policy. Under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. is legally obligated to help defend the island.

"I will not dismiss Hu Xijin's tweet. If the U.S. indeed deploys troops in Taiwan, it will be a sea change in U.S.-China relations and a trigger for U.S.-China military conflict," said Zhiqun Zhu, author of A Critical Decade: China's Foreign Policy 2008-2018.

"From Beijing's perspective, it will destroy the very foundation of PRC-U.S relations and violate the Anti-Secession Law, which will be a cause for war," he told Newsweek.

Zhu, who is professor of political science at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ,said that the proposal to send U.S. ground troops to Taiwan "grossly underestimates the complexity of the issue." He added that "the Taiwan issue is not a military one and cannot be resolved militarily. It is a complex issue with historical, political, diplomatic, economic, security, and great power rivalry dimensions all combined into one."

Meanwhile Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said that the threat by the Global Times editor "does not seem necessary or justified" as he believed there was no indication as yet that the U.S. government was planning to deploy troops to Taiwan.

"I can see the U.S. improving coordination and cooperation with Taiwan's defence forces as tension across the Taiwan Strait increases. But increasing coordination and cooperation or training together does not amount to deploying troops to Taiwan," he told Newsweek.

This story has been updated to include Zhiqun Zhu's post as a professor at Bucknell University.