Taking Taiwan by force is an option for Beijing and it will take steps to “resolutely smash” any separatist moves made by the island, a top PLA general said on Friday.
At the same event, Li Zhanshu, the third most senior leader of the ruling Communist Party, said using force was a last resort and Beijing had not given up on peaceful reunification with the island, which it considers a part of China.
They were speaking at a gathering in Beijing to mark the 15th anniversary of the Anti-Secession Law that gives the People’s Liberation Army a legal basis to take military action against Taiwan if it is deemed to have seceded.
General Li Zuocheng, chief of the PLA Joint Staff Department, said collusion between Taiwan independence forces and foreign forces posed a “great and realistic threat” to the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.
“If the possibility for peaceful reunification is lost, the People’s Liberation Army will, with the whole nation – including the people of Taiwan – take all necessary steps to resolutely smash any separatist plots or actions,” said Li, who is also a member of the powerful Central Military Commission.
“Today’s China is not the previous frail old China … We do not promise to abandon the use of force, and reserve the option to take all necessary measures to stabilise and control the situation in the Taiwan Strait.”
Li is a decorated war hero for his actions during China’s conflict with Vietnam in 1979, one of a few senior PLA officers with combat experience.
Head of China’s legislature, Li Zhanshu, warned that separatists would be “severely punished” in accordance with the Anti-Secession Law. Without naming the United States, he said no matter how “separatists colluded with foreign forces” they could not succeed.
“As long as there is a slightest chance of a peaceful resolution, we will put in 100 times the effort,” the National People’s Congress chief said. “We warn Taiwan’s pro-independence and separatist forces sternly, the path of Taiwan independence leads to a dead end.”
Taipei denounced the comments, saying that threats of war were a violation of international law, while the 23 million people on the self-ruled island all strongly opposed the “one country, two systems” model.
“Taiwan’s people will never choose dictatorship nor bow to violence,” Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said. “Force and unilateral decisions are not the way to resolve problems.”
Defence Minister Yen Te-fa said the island’s military would prepare for the worst-case scenario, Central News Agency reported. He added that the PLA had conducted eight drills and other military activities targeting Taiwan since the start of the year.
It came after Beijing appeared to harden its rhetoric towards Taiwan at the annual parliamentary meetings, with references to “peaceful reunification” absent from Premier Li Keqiang’s draft government work report – it has been included in the past six – at the opening session. But the wording reappeared in a final draft of the annual report at the closing session on Thursday.
Former Taiwanese defence minister Andrew Yang Nien-dzu said Beijing had not abandoned its carrot-and-stick approach to the island, but its priority during this year’s parliamentary meetings was the national security bill for Hong Kong.
“Beijing realises that both the Taiwan and Hong Kong issues involve foreign intervention, but compared with Taiwan, the problems in Hong Kong are more critical and urgent,” Yang said.
Chao Chien-min, former deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, agreed that the focus was “the Hong Kong problem”.
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