TAIPEI, Taiwan — A top Taiwanese official on relations with mainland China warned Wednesday that Beijing under President Xi Jinping is embracing an extreme form of “closed-door nationalism” and “totalitarianism” that threatens the future of Taiwan, the U.S. and other democracies.
Chui-Cheng Chiu, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, gave the stark warning weeks ahead of an anticipated move by Mr. Xi to consolidate power at home.
U.S.-Chinese tensions have increased over the status of Taiwan and Mr. Xi’s vow to someday reclaim control of the island democracy.
Acrimony stems from China’s expansion of military drills and missile tests near Taiwan to protest House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island last month. It resurged Wednesday after Vice President Kamala Harris vowed during a speech in Japan that Washington “will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense” against Chinese provocations.
China says the Biden administration’s rhetoric and a slew of visits by senior U.S. lawmakers and officials are undermining long-standing policy regarding China and Taiwan’s status. U.S. support for Taiwan has increased on Capitol Hill, but the White House accuses Beijing of overreacting to recent events.
“China is undermining key elements of the international rules-based order,” Ms. Harris said aboard the USS Howard destroyer at the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka as part of a four-day trip to Asia. “China has flexed its military and economic might to coerce and intimidate its neighbors. And we have witnessed disturbing behavior in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea and, most recently, provocations across the Taiwan Strait.”
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Hours earlier, Mr. Chiu told a small group of reporters in Taipei that he and other Taiwanese officials and citizens are facing “extreme suppression from China, and there’s a possibility that China will annex Taiwan.”
“We need U.S. support in terms of military defenses, and Taiwan will also strengthen our military capabilities,” Mr. Chiu said during a meeting with journalists from international news outlets, including The Washington Times, who are visiting the island democracy on a program sponsored by the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Chiu predicted that China “will only become more assertive and aggressive” toward Taiwan. He said the long, complicated dynamic of the two governments has become a central issue in a global power struggle between autocracy and freedom.
“In the past, Taiwan [was] on the front line facing China. Now, we are on the front line in the confrontation between authoritarianism and democracies,” he said.
Taiwan’s democracy can serve as a model for East Asia and the rest of the world, he said, and its economic successes and political freedoms are standing rebukes to Beijing’s Communist Party leadership.
“Taiwan’s democracy is very different from Western democracy because China can use nationalism to block Western democracy, but Taiwan’s democracy can influence Chinese people and encourage them to seek a better life, freedom and democracy,” Mr. Chiu said. “Therefore, Taiwan’s democracy is irreplaceable in the international community.”
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Xi and Taiwan
Mr. Chiu said the stakes are particularly high ahead of the much-anticipated 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress in mid-October. He said the gathering will solidify Mr. Xi’s consolidation of power in Beijing and likely lead to more aggressive policies and rhetoric from China. Mr. Xi is expected to secure a third five-year term as head of the CCP and of the government, centralizing power in a way not seen in decades.
A top priority for Mr. Xi is bringing Taiwan under the mainland’s control, analysts say. The Chinese leader said in an address a year ago that Taiwan’s “independence-separatism is the biggest obstacle to achieving the reunification of the motherland and the most serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation.” Peaceful “reunification” is best, he said, but the military option will always be on the table.
The concentration of power in Beijing makes the Taiwan crisis more volatile, Mr. Chiu said.
“The risk is that only a few people are making decisions; therefore, they’re willing to take risks when making decisions, and we see more assertive decisions and using war policy to face different situations,” the Taiwanese deputy minister said. He noted that Mr. Xi’s decade in power has brought a crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong, a repression campaign against Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang province that the U.S. and others have labeled a genocide, and increasing military intimidation of Taiwan.
“China is developing in an extreme way. … China has been a socialist, left-wing country, but now they are implementing a national rejuvenation, and they are using closed-door nationalism to boost and fuel their patriotism, and they are showing this in their expansion to the world,” he said. “We saw this in 19th-century European countries. China is now attempting to compete with the U.S. and other hegemonies in the world. We see that in their militarization in the South China Sea, their destruction of Hong Kong’s democracy and the issues of Xinjiang and Taiwan.
“China’s totalitarianism now is posing unprecedented threats to the free and democratic countries of the world,” Mr. Chiu added. “The extreme development of extremely centralized leadership and a fanatic nationalism will pose a grave threat to the rules-based order and liberal democracy.”
The comments, along with Ms. Harris’ remarks in Japan, are likely to trigger more harsh reactions from Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned after a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that the United States has been sending “very wrong, dangerous signals” about Taiwan. Taipei’s assertions of independence from China increase the likelihood of confrontation, he said.
More specifically, Mr. Wang accused Washington of attempting to undermine China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan.
The U.S. maintains informal diplomatic relations and substantial defense ties with the island democracy but has long acknowledged Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China. The Biden administration says it adheres to the “One China” policy but does not technically recognize Chinese sovereignty over the island.
A State Department fact sheet circulated in May said U.S. officials “do not support Taiwan independence” but “expect cross-Strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.” The fact sheet also said U.S. officials “oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side.”
Mr. Biden has repeatedly seemed to go beyond the “strategic ambiguity” approach of past administrations over how the U.S. would respond to a Chinese military attempt to seize Taiwan, including a “60 Minutes” interview this month in which he said the U.S. military would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of an “unprecedented attack” by the mainland. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Mr. Biden’s comments “severely violate the commitment the U.S. made not to support Taiwan independence.”
Mr. Chiu said he hoped for peaceful diplomacy between China and Taiwan but asserted it is Beijing that has been attempting to unilaterally change the status quo for years by demanding that Taipei recognize China’s sovereignty claim as a precondition to any talks toward resolving cross-strait differences.
“Taiwan has not and will not accept this political precondition,” he said. Taiwan “is a sovereign state” and “has never been part of the [People’s Republic of China].”
Although Taiwan and China maintain robust trade relations, diplomatic and people-to-people exchanges have been curtailed dramatically since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwanese officials say an average of roughly 580 civilian and other aircraft flights traveled weekly between Taiwan and some 60 Chinese cities before pandemic lockdowns. Since the lockdowns began in early 2020, the number of flights has dropped to roughly 20 per week to just four Chinese cities.
Taiwan has begun easing pandemic travel restrictions, but China continues to impose widespread restrictions as part of its “zero COVID” approach.
Despite the restrictions, Mr. Chiu said, Beijing is engaged in subversive cyberspace and information operations against Taiwan.
“China is conducting all kinds of cognitive warfare against Taiwan, especially in terms of disinformation,” he said. “Their purpose is to obstruct Taiwan’s society, our democratic system and make people go against the government [in Taipei].”
Mr. Chiu said Taiwanese officials “would like to express our greatest appreciation to the U.S. people, Congress, government and think tanks for supporting Taiwan.”
“Taiwan is more than willing to contribute to the international world, but China is now isolating Taiwan,” he said. “We hope that the U.S. can continue to establish a stronger world-based order to prevent China from undermining the peace and stability of the world.”