China will invade Taiwan if US sends ships there, says diplomat

Comments spark verbal sparring across strait of Taiwan

A senior Chinese diplomat has said mainland China will invade Taiwan if the US sends navy ships to the self-ruled island, prompting a bout of verbal sparring between Beijing and Taipei.

"The day that a US navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People's Liberation Army (PLA) unifies Taiwan by military force," Li Kexin, minister at China's embassy in Washington DC, said at an event in the mission.

The defeated forces of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to the Communists. Beijing considers Taiwan a rogue province and has never renounced using force to annex Taiwan and bring it under its control.

Mr Li said sending naval ships to Taiwan would trigger the Anti-Secession Law, a 2005 Chinese law that allows the use of force to take Taiwan.


Taiwan has traditionally been supported by the US and although Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei in 1979, it is bound to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion and supplies Taiwan with most of its weapons.

Earlier this year, Congress passed an act allowing for mutual visits by naval vessels between Taiwan and the US.

Relations across the strait of Taiwan have become strained since the election last year of Tsai Ing-wen as president. She leads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, and Beijing believes that she plans to formally declare independence. She has denied this and wants to maintain relations with China, but has pledged to defend Taiwan's security.

During Donald Trump's visit to China last month, President Xi Jinping told the US leader that Taiwan was the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-US ties.

Controversial call

One of the early controversies of the Trump administration was a phone call between the US president and Ms Tsai, which angered Beijing. It said the move threatened the one-China policy, whereby Washington has diplomatic ties with the mainland China and does not recognise Taiwan as a country, while maintaining good relations.

China's Global Times, which reflects many of the views of the ruling Communist Party, said Mr Li's words sent a warning and "drew a clear red line".

In an illustration of how it does not recognise Taiwan as a self-ruled entity, even the reference to Taiwan’s ministry of foreign affairs in the Global Times’s article put the phrase in parentheses.

“If Taiwan attempts to hold an independence referendum or other activities in pursuit of de jure ‘Taiwan independence’, the PLA will undoubtedly take action,” it said.

“This is the cornerstone of Beijing’s policy on Taiwan that can’t be shaken and also the will of the entire Chinese nation.”

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said even though China insisted it wanted to win over sentiment in Taiwan, it still insisted on using threats to Taiwanese security that hurt the feelings of its people.

“These methods show a lack of knowledge about the real meaning of the democratic system and how a democratic society works,” the ministry said. – Additional reporting Reuters

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing