War With China Not Likely in Next Three Years: Taiwan Intelligence Chief

Taipei and Beijing won't come to blows anytime in the next three years, Taiwan's chief of intelligence told local lawmakers on Wednesday as he faced questions about the likelihood of war in the near future.

Chen Ming-tong, director of Taiwan's National Security Bureau, said China has never renounced the use of force against the island since its founding in 1949, but the probability of conflict across the Taiwan Strait remains "very low."

"Barring any contingent event, nothing will happen," said Chen. "It's my view that nothing will happen for the remainder of President Tsai Ing-wen's term."

The 66-year-old former minister of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council was appointed head of intelligence in a cabinet reshuffle in February. He succeeded Chiu Kuo-cheng—currently Taiwan's serving defense minister—who has described cross-strait relations as the "most severe" he has experienced in his four decades in the military.

Chen agreed with Chiu's assessment of tensions between Taiwan and China, and revealed that Tsai had convened her National Security Council in the beginning of October after 150 Chinese military aircraft conducted training operations in the international airspace southwest of Taiwan—a sharp rise in quantity and frequency.

Speaking at the Taiwanese legislature's Foreign and National Defense Committee, the official described the ongoing struggle between democracy and authoritarianism as resulting in deep insecurities in Beijing.

"[China] will need to dominate Asia and replace the United States in order to feel safe," said Chen. "A fear of regime change by a color revolution has caused it to become more internally authoritarian and more externally antagonistic. This reflects its insecurities and demonstrates its position trapped inside a security dilemma."

Taiwan's physical location means it won't be able to avoid the geopolitical rivalry between China and the U.S., Chen remarked, after an opposition party legislature asked how him how the Taiwanese government planned to protect its people while "standing in the middle of two fighting elephants."

During the five-hour committee hearing, Chen expressed a confidence in U.S. policy toward Taiwan and in American deterrence capabilities in the region. The recent U.S.-led triple aircraft carrier exercises in the Western Pacific were "unprecedented," he said.

Asked whether President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had a "secret arrangement" regarding the future of Taiwan—this after Biden said he and Xi had agreed to abide by the "Taiwan agreement"—Chen dismissed concerns and said the two superpowers were undergoing structural changes in their relationship.

"They say there's no going back for China-U.S. relations," the national security director said.

He echoed remarks given to the same committee on Monday by Taiwanese Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu, who, when quizzed on the same subject, said: "The U.S. government has assured us that ties with Taiwan will only improve, regardless of changes in China-U.S. relations."

The Tsai administration remains in popular favor among the Taiwanese public—52.6 percent approval, according to one recent poll—but opposition leaders fear that the government's lack of dialogue with its Chinese counterpart risks putting the island under more pressure from Beijing.

Taiwanese and Chinese officials have not held high-level talks since 2016 because the former insist on political parity and no preconditions for dialogue, while the latter demand that Taipei first accept its position that Taiwan is a province of China.

Taiwan Intel Official Says War Not Likely
File: Chinese President Xi Jinping. Taipei and Beijing won't come to blows anytime in the next three years, Taiwan's chief of intelligence told local lawmakers on Wednesday. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images