On Wednesday Taiwan issued new and rare bellicose words signaling its response plans should China attack the democratic island. As speculation abounds over Beijing's increased military pressure which has included ever larger weekly and near daily military flights into Taiwan's defense zones, Taipei officials have tended to downplay the possibility of a Chinese move on the island.
Breaking from this reticent approach which thus far has seen officials avoid direct ratcheting rhetoric with the mainland, Taiwan’s foreign minister asserted the island will defend itself "to the very last day" if it comes under attack by China.
Joseph Wu told reporters, "We are willing to defend ourselves, that’s without any question." The top diplomat added: "We fill fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day."
Addressing Chinese propaganda regarding its intentions, Wu explained during the ministry press briefing:
On the one hand they want to charm the Taiwanese people by sending their condolences, but at the same time they are also sending their military aircraft and military vessels closer to Taiwan aimed at intimidating Taiwan’s people."
"The Chinese are sending very mixed signals to the Taiwanese people and I would characterize that as self-defeating," Wu said.
The uncharacteristically direct words clearly meant as a warning to Beijing come as China early this week launched new naval drills in waters near Taiwan. Crucially the drills are led by the Liaoning carrier group in order to "safeguard national sovereignty, safety and development interests" - according to a PLA Navy statement.
Moreover, while this is nothing particularly "new" - what is escalating tensions is the PLA's declaration that such drills in contested waters will now be "routine" and "regular":
"Similar exercises will be conducted on a regular basis in the future," the navy added, without elaborating.
Of course, from Beijing's point of view "safeguarding national sovereignty" means precisely recognition of Taiwan as part of Chinese territory.
PLA Eastern Theater Command tracked and monitored the USS John S. McCain destroyer when it sailed through the Taiwan Straits on Wednesday. This display from the US sent wrong signals to Taiwan secessionists: command spokesperson pic.twitter.com/w7o7JGCN7B— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) April 7, 2021
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday Taiwan's superpower Western backer decided to "answer" the latest Chinese naval drills with its own "routine" sail through of the Taiwan Strait:
The guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain conducted a “routine” transit of the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the US Navy said, as China sent more fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone and a Chinese carrier group drilled near Taiwan.
As is usual, the US Navy issued a statement reiterating commitment to "free and open" international waters (however in contravention to China's claims): "The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows," it said.
Chinese military officials condemned the McCain's maneuvers as sending "wrong signals to Taiwan secessionists".