China intensifies belligerence against Taiwan – but what is the conflict about?

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On October 4 Beijing sent 56 military aircraft in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, raising concerns that tensions could escalate into a military conflict. The 56 aircraft included 34 J-16 fighter jets and 12 H-6 bombers, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence, the highest number since China began operations in the area in September 2020.

Taiwan’s defence ministry released pictures of Chinese military aircraft in the island’s air defence zone.

The flights coincided with a joint drill by the US and its allies, where HMS Queen Elizabeth was seen with two US aircraft carriers.

The flagship Royal Navy aircraft carrier sailed through the Bashi Channel to enter the waters of the South China Sea.

On Tuesday Taiwan’s premier, Su Tseng-chang, said the “over the top” activity violated regional peace, and Taiwan needed to be on alert.

Additionally, president Tsai Ing-wen said: “Amid almost daily intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army, our position on cross-strait relations remains constant.

“Taiwan will not bend to pressure, but nor will it turn adventurist, even when it accumulates support from the international community.”

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The belligerence comes as Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, warned of a possible war with China.

He said: “The defence of Taiwan is in our own hands, and we are absolutely committed to that.

“If China is going to launch a war against Taiwan we will fight to the end, and that is our commitment.

“I’m sure that if China is going to launch an attack against Taiwan, I think they are going to suffer tremendously as well.”

Why are there tensions between China and Taiwan?

The source of tension between the two is longstanding but has been amplified in recent years by China’s ever-increasing expansionist foreign policy.

In an essence, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has repeatedly said it is willing to take it back by force.

Beijing considers the Taiwan Government to be separatist, whereas Taiwan is considered a sovereign nation by its Government and the USA.

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Taiwan is still not recognised by the United Nations as a sovereign country, however.

Their largely unrecognised status has led Taiwan to form unofficial partnerships and agreements with other countries, and it has managed to grow ties around the world as a trading partner and global supplier.

Since the implementation of National Security Law in Hong Kong in 2020, Taiwan has watched closely as China grows more assertive in the area.

President Joe Biden has said his administration’s commitment to Taiwan is “rock solid”, as the US has intensified its outreach to the island since he came into office, sending its highest level state department official to Taipei earlier this year.

Will there be an armed conflict?

In April, US Admiral John Aquilino, head of the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific command, warned that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan “is much closer to us than most think”.

Taiwan hopes to provide a deterrence to China through strong international ties and investment in its defence capabilities, including arms purchases through the US.

“Such initiatives are meant to maximise Taiwan’s self-reliance and preparedness and to signal that we are willing to bear our share of the burden and don’t take our security partners’ support for granted.”

Taiwan was “fully committed to collaborating with our neighbours to prevent armed conflict in the East China and South China Seas, as well as in the Taiwan Strait”.

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