A day after the Chinese air force deployed a record number of warplanes into Taiwan’s airspace in what was described as an "irresponsible provocative action,” China has warned that war could be imminent.
On Monday, 34 Chinese J-16 fighters escorted 12 nuclear-capable H-6 bombers into Taiwanese territory, bringing the total of Chinese aircraft sent into Taiwan's defence zone over the past four days to almost 150.
Since 1949, Taiwan has described itself as an independent nation but the Chinese government maintains that the island – around half the size of Scotland – is a breakaway province.
Recent moves by Taiwan's government suggest that the island could be close to formally declaring independence – a step that could push Beijing into direct action.
China has long had plans to recapture Taiwan but because the Taiwanese have the backing of the US, any armed confrontation could quickly escalate into a global conflict.
Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen wrote that there would be "catastrophic" consequences for peace and democracy in Asia if the island were to fall to China.
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"It would signal that in today's global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy," President Tsai warned.
In the Global Times, a newspaper widely seen as a tool of the Chinese government, an editorial mockingly stated: "It seems that the [Taiwanese] authorities are really scared."
Warning that a face-off between the superpowers could be just days away, the piece went on: “The strategic collusion between the US and Japan and the DPP authorities is becoming more audacious, and the situation across the Taiwan Straits has almost lost any room for manoeuvre teetering on the edge of a face-off, creating a sense of urgency that the war may be triggered at any time”.
The chilling message ended: “If the US and the DPP authorities do no take the initiative to reverse the current situation, the Chinese mainland’s military punishment for ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces will be triggered… Time will prove that this warning is not just a verbal threat.”
In a defiant statement, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said:“If China is going to launch a war against Taiwan, we will fight to the end, and that is our commitment.”
President Tsai added that Taiwan would "do whatever it takes to defend itself".
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