China mulling over strong measures to contain Taiwan

Options include cutting trade, holding war drills nearby: Sources

China's only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, sailing during military drills in the Pacific, on Dec 24, 2016 .
China's only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, sailing during military drills in the Pacific, on Dec 24, 2016 .PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • China's military has become alarmed by what it sees as United States President-elect Donald Trump's support of Taiwan and is considering strong measures to prevent the island from moving toward independence, sources with ties to senior military officers said.

Three sources said one possibility being considered was conducting war games near the self-ruled island, which China considers as a breakaway province.

Another possibility was a series of economic measures to cripple Taiwan.

It was not clear whether any decisions had been taken, but the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the issue had become a hot topic within the upper echelons of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) in recent weeks.

Mr Trump, due to take office on Jan 20, angered Beijing last month by speaking to Taiwan's President by telephone, breaking decades of precedent and casting doubt on his incoming administration's commitment to Beijing's "one China" policy.

Beijing fears this could embolden supporters of independence in Taiwan.

"If Trump challenges 'one China' after becoming president, this would cross our red line," said another source, who has ties to China's leadership.

China's Defence Ministry declined to comment. An official at the ministry's news department said China's position was clearly laid out in the 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which authorises the use of force against Taiwan in the event China judges it to have seceded.

Asked about any possible aggressive moves from China, Taiwan defence ministry spokesman Chen Chung-shi said: "We are fully prepared, and plan for the worst while preparing for the best."

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its "sacred and inviolable territory" and is deeply suspicious of President Tsai Ing-wen, whose ruling Democratic Progressive Party espouses the island's independence.

Ms Tsai, who took power last year, says she wants to maintain peace with China, but China is unconvinced.

Ms Tsai said yesterday that Taiwan will be "calm" when facing issues to do with China.

Speaking at a year-end news conference, she said that Taiwan's pledge to maintain peace and stability has not changed.

"Cross-strait relations are certainly a challenge for the people of Taiwan and for this country," she said.

"But please don't forget that Taiwan is a sovereign independent nation."

Beijing has also been angered by a trip planned by Ms Tsai to Latin America this month, in which she will transit through the US cities of Houston and San Francisco.

China has urged the US to block the stopovers.

Chinese officials have blamed Taiwan, rather than Mr Trump, for creating trouble. Many of them believe that he will be more accommodating to China once in office.

"We're ready. If Taiwan wants to make trouble, so can we. Let's hit them hard," said an official in Beijing who meets regularly with China's most senior military officers, including those who work directly with President Xi Jinping.

"We can hold exercises close to Taiwan, and show them the damage we could cause. Taiwan will have to give in then," the official added, citing a recent conversation with one of the military officers.

The US is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but it is unclear if the US would send troops in the event of war between China and Taiwan. Washington also acknowledges Beijing's position that there is only one China and Taiwan is its territory.

A retired senior officer who maintains contacts with the PLA told Reuters that China probably would not need to fire any missiles to bring Taiwan to its knees. China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, and Taiwan runs a huge trade surplus with China, worth US$27 billion (S$39 billion) in 2015.

"We can just cut them off economically. No more direct flights, no more trade. Nothing. Taiwan would not last long," the officer said. "There would be no need for war."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'China mulling over strong measures to contain Taiwan'. Subscribe