Taiwan’s foreign minister said he believes China is now more likely to invade Taiwan to distract from leader Xi Jinping’s domestic problems.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News in his first sit-down interview of the year, Joseph Wu has pinpointed 2027 as the key date when such action is most likely to happen.
His words come at a time when tensions over the Taiwan Strait are at their highest for many years, with China now flying fighter jets according to Taiwanese airspace on a daily basis.
Mr Wu also said the current “status quo” arrangement, in which Taiwan is self-governing but does not officially declare independence, “may not last forever”, rarely acknowledging that the island could one day be assimilated by China or become an independent state.
Taiwan is a democratic, self-governing island that China sees as its own.
Despite never having been controlled by the ruling Communist Party, placing Taiwan under Chinese control has been described by President Xi Jinping as “the essence of China’s core interests”.
Mr. Wu acknowledged that “the situation in the last year compared to the two previous years is much worse,” but said: “For me, 2027 is the year we have to watch out for.”
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“In 2027, Xi Jinping will likely go into his fourth term, and, if he cannot claim any achievements during his tenure in the previous three terms, he may have to think about something else to claim as his achievement or legacy.” . .
“If you look at the Chinese situation at the moment, the economy is in decline. People are not happy, the real estate business seems to be melting down.
“If Xi Jinping cannot change the situation domestically in China, you may want to resort to the use of force or creating a crisis externally to divert attention at home or to show the Chinese that he has achieved something.”
“We are concerned that Taiwan may become his scapegoat.”
‘A small accident could cause a big war’
Chinese fighter jets now fly into Taiwan’s airspace and cross the so-called “middle line” – the unofficial maritime border – every day.
The number increased fivefold between 2020 and 2022 with the highest daily number recorded just three weeks ago.
Mr Wu said the “worst case scenario” was now “more likely” than in previous years and described how precarious the situation could be.
“Look at the proximity of the Chinese aircraft to our aircraft,” he said.
“If they cross the 24 nautical mile zone, some of our weapons systems may have to engage those Chinese aircraft, and that could cause an accident, although it may not be intentional for the Chinese pilots to cross 24 nautical miles.”
“Very often you see that the sum of a small accident could cause a great war.”
“We’re worried that could happen.”
The only thing that can prevent that sudden escalation now, he added, is “self-restraint.”
“Our pilots are very well trained; they know they can’t fire the first shot,” Mr Wu said.
Is Taiwan ready for war against China?
There have been suggestions by military experts that Taiwan is not well enough prepared if war came to the island.
Taiwan spends just 2.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, lower than countries like the United States and about half the amount spent by Israel.
According to the analysis, it is also short on ammunition, struggling to meet recruitment quotas in the armed forces and has not focused enough on the kind of asymmetric capabilities it would need to wage war with China.
The foreign minister dismissed the idea that Taiwan was complacent, but admitted it had been slow to prepare in the past.
“We understand that in previous years we may not have acquired enough ammunition,” he said.
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“In previous years, we may not have had sufficient training for our military personnel.” And in previous years, we understand that the number of our soldiers in the defense of Taiwan may not be enough, but look at the reform measures announced by the president.
Taiwan is recently extended military service from four months to a year, increased the defense budget and is trying to start domestic production of drones and missiles.
“We are trying everything we can to make Taiwan ready, to make Taiwan able to defend itself,” Wu said.
While he insisted that Taiwan would be willing to negotiate with China, he was clear that it did not “welcome the political preconditions”.
“Accepting those Chinese preconditions means submitting to China, which is something that people here in Taiwan would never accept, but our door is open,” he said.