A senior US admiral said Taiwan was in China’s sights, warning of possible military action over the next six years as well as fears that Beijing could become America’s global leader in the coming decades.
“Taiwan is clearly one of their targets … and I think the threat will indeed show up in this decade for the next six years.” Adm. Philip Davidson, Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, told a hearing of the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Tuesday.
Davidson also said China could overtake United States’ hegemony in global affairs and take global leadership by 2050.
“I worry it is you [China] Accelerate their ambitions to oust the United States and our leadership in the rules-based international order, “he added.
“They have long said that they want to do this by 2050. I worry that they will bring that goal closer.”
China has not responded to its claims. On Tuesday, however, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry asked the US to stop selling arms to Taiwan.
“China’s position on the Taiwan issue is consistent and clear. There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory,” Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.
China regards democratic Taiwan as an illegitimate breakaway province. When the civil war in China between communists and nationalists ended in 1949 and the former triumphed, the latter formed a rival government in Taipei.
The US does not have official relations with Taiwan, but extensive informal relations. Former President Donald Trump angered Beijing by sending cabinet officials to Taiwan to show his support.
In recent months, China has stepped up its military activities near the island in response to the so-called “secessionist forces” and “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen won a landslide election last year with the promise to defend the island’s democracy and assert himself against China.
The Chinese Communist Party has not ruled out the use of force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.
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While China’s major annual political convention is taking place in Beijing, the country’s top diplomatic state council, Wang Yi, took a tough line against Taiwan on Monday. He warned that there was no room for compromise and stated that the new US administration should drop the previous administration’s “dangerous acts of playing with fire”.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to his comments at a press conference in Washington on Monday, underlining that America’s commitment to Taiwan was “absolutely solid”.
“Our position on Taiwan remains clear. We will work with friends and allies to advance our common prosperity, security and values in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
The United States and China are at odds over influence in the Indo-Pacific region, territorial claims in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China was America’s “greatest geopolitical test of the 21st century.” He added that US relations with China “will be competitive when it should, cooperative when it can be, and controversial when it has to”.
Taiwan remains a “high priority for China’s central leadership,” former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, president of the Asia Society, told NBC News.
“Sensitivity is in the eyes of the beholder, and Beijing’s list of sensitivities is different from Washington’s list of sensitivities, but Taiwan obviously stays at the top,” he said.
Both capitals, however, were keen to avoid “open armed conflict,” Rudd said, but should be careful not to accidentally break into existing minefields.
China is strengthening its military capabilities, he added, although maintaining “strategic peace” with the United States is “of paramount importance” to its leader, Xi Jinping, he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Dawn Liu and Janis Mackey Frayer contributed.