Taiwan’s foreign minister said he believed China was now “more likely” to invade Taiwan to distract from leader Xi Jinping’s domestic issues.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News in his first interview of the year, Joseph Wu set 2027 as the key date for such an action to most likely occur.
His words come at a time when tensions across the Taiwan Strait are the highest in many years, with China now fly fighter jets daily to Taiwanese airspace.
Mr Wu also said the current ‘status quo’ agreement, in which Taiwan is self-governing but does not formally declare independence, ‘may not last forever’, in a rare acknowledgment that the island could one day be assimilated by China or become an independent country.
Taiwan is a democratic and self-governing island that China considers its own.
Although never controlled by the ruling Communist Party, bringing Taiwan under Chinese control has been described by President Xi Jinping as “core to China’s core interests”.
Mr Wu acknowledged that “the situation last year compared to the previous two years is much worse”, but said: “For me, 2027 is the year we have to pay attention to”.
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“In 2027, Xi Jinping will probably enter his fourth term, and if in his previous three terms he cannot claim any achievement during his tenure, he may have to think of something else that he will claim as its achievement or legacy.
“If you look at the Chinese situation right now, the economy is down. People are not happy, the real estate sector seems to be collapsing.
“If Xi Jinping cannot change the situation domestically in China, you may want to resort to the use of force or create a crisis outside to divert domestic attention or show the Chinese that he accomplished something.
“We fear that Taiwan will become its scapegoat.”
“A very small accident could start a major war”
Chinese fighter jets now fly into Taiwanese airspace and cross the so-called “median line” – the unofficial maritime border – daily.
The number has quintupled between 2020 and 2022, the highest daily number on record just three weeks ago.
Mr Wu said the “worst-case scenario” occurring is now “more likely” than in previous years, and described how precarious the situation can be.
“Look at the proximity of Chinese planes to our planes,” he said.
“If they cross the 24 nautical mile zone, some of our weapons systems might have to target those Chinese planes, and that might trigger an accident, although it might not be intentional for the Chinese pilots to cross the 24 nautical miles.
“Very often you see that the sum of a very small accident can start a major war.
“We fear that will happen.”
The only thing to prevent this sudden escalation now, he added, is “restraint”.
“Our pilots are very well trained, they know they can’t fire the first shot,” Wu said.
Is Taiwan ready for a war against China?
Military experts have suggested that Taiwan was not sufficiently prepared if war came to the island.
Taiwan spends only 2.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, which is less than countries like the United States and about half the amount spent by Israel.
According to analyses, it also lacks sufficient ammunition, struggles to meet recruitment quotas within the armed forces, and has not focused enough on the kind of asymmetric capabilities it would need to conduct a war. war with China.
The foreign minister dismissed the idea that Taiwan is complacent, but acknowledged that it had already been slow to prepare.
“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 received enough training for our military personnel. And in previous years, we understand that the number of our troops to defend Taiwan might not be enough, but look at the reform measures announced by the president.
Taiwan has recently extended compulsory military service from four months to a year, has increased the defense budget and is trying to revive the national production of drones and missiles.
“We are trying everything we can to prepare Taiwan, to make Taiwan capable of defending itself,” Wu said.
Although he insisted that Taiwan would be willing to negotiate with China, he made it clear that it “does not welcome political preconditions”.
“Accepting these Chinese preconditions means we submit to China, and that’s something people here in Taiwan would never accept, but our door is open,” he said.