The democratic island, which is claimed by China as a province, has complained of routine Chinese military activity in the international airspace close to its southwestern coastline. Between October 1 and 5, 150 People’s Liberation Army aircraft buzzed Taiwan’s air defenses in the largest show of force yet.
Beijing has never renounced the use of force against the island in order to achieve what it calls “national unification,” warning that it could resort to “resolute measures” if the goal cannot be achieved on its terms.
However, the rigid, hawkish stance—made more uncompromising by ultra-nationalism fanned by government messaging and state media reports—has backfired in unexpected ways, with certain sectors of the public susceptible to speculation about an imminent declaration of war.
At a monthly press conference in Beijing on Thursday, China’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian was asked about “heated public opinion on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” which led to the spreading online of fake government notices that purportedly required the re-enlistment of former soldiers in order to fight Taiwan.
Wu said members of the public should receive military information only from official channels and warned that the internet was not above the law.
“To concoct such military-related rumors on certain online platforms is extremely irresponsible and illegal,” he added.
It is the second time this month the government has had to issue a rebuttal to war rumors. On November 1, China’s Commerce Ministry unintentionally sparked panic and gossip about military action after urging citizens to stockpile vegetables, rice, noodles, cooking oil and other essentials. The state-owned Economic Daily newspaper clarified later that the advice was based on the likelihood of another COVID-19 lockdown, but the phenomenon demonstrated the dangers of brewing nationalism within a closed-information environment.
Cross-strait relations have nosedived in recent years, coinciding with an increase in political and military tensions between Beijing and Washington. Vocal support for Taiwan by the United States has led to increased animosity between Beijing and Taipei, which now sees itself as playing a dangerous front-line role against Chinese aggression. China says the U.S. is using Taiwan to curtail its rising power and influence.
The Defense Ministry’s Wu described the U.S. as “addicted to” global dominance.
“Those who are addicted to and pursue hegemony always feel like others covet their hegemony. For quite some time, some in the U.S. have been immersed in a persecutory delusion and cannot extricate themselves,” he said. “They insist on fabricating a non-existent ‘China military threat’ for the explicit purpose of justifying attempts to seek military supremacy and maintaining global hegemony.”
Wu added: “Exploring the cause of this illness, a serious bias in perceptions of China is apparent, resulting in the adoption of incorrect China policies.”
During last week’s summit between President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, the leaders agreed to maintain dialogue in order to manage their competitive relationship. Biden told Xi that Washington and Beijing needed to establish “common-sense guardrails” in order to prevent tensions from spiraling into unintended conflict.
Wu, however, suggested that Biden’s guardrails would only work if the U.S. agreed to China’s position on Taiwan.
“China values the development of relations between our two militaries and is willing to maintain exchanges and communications with the U.S.,” he said. “But for some time, the U.S. has made many irresponsible remarks regarding Taiwan, the South China Sea and the close-in reconnaissance of its vessels and aircraft; and done many provocative things. China must, of course, counter this in a reciprocal and resolute manner.”
He concluded: “We have said many times that the principles for the development of relations between our two militaries are that China’s sovereignty, dignity and core interests cannot be violated. Especially on the Taiwan issue, China has no room for compromise, and the U.S. should not have any illusions.”