'Use your imagination': Chinese ambassador's 'crazy' response to Taiwan question

China's Ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, has told an audience in Canberra "to use your imagination" over how a forceful reunification with Taiwan could play out.

With tensions in the Taiwan Strait at an alarming level amid ongoing Chinese military drills, the representative for the Chinese Communist Party said there was "no room for compromise" on the issue and reiterated the right to use military force to absorb the self-ruling island.

Just don't use the word invasion, he said during his first speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.

China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Source: AAP
China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Source: AAP

Hours before the address, China released a white paper on the Taiwan issue saying the country "will not renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures".

When asked about that language by the ABC's Foreign Affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic, and citing those in Taiwan who would be worried about a potential invasion, the Chinese ambassador focused on semantics.

"I would rather not use the word 'invasion' when we talk China and Taiwan. Taiwan is not an independent state, Taiwan is a province of the People's Republic of China," he said.

"The least thing we are ready to do is use force. That is one of the reasons why China has been so patient for several decades. We're waiting for a peaceful unification but we cannot, we can never rule out the option to use other means so when necessary, when compelled, we are ready to use all necessary means.

"As to what does it mean 'all necessary means'? You can use your imagination," he added.

The ambassador also declined to say when Chinese military drills in the Taiwan Strait would cease.

"How long is it going to last? At proper time, I think there will be an announcement," he said.

Ambassador faces heated questioning

Following the speech, at times Mr Qian grew visibly uncomfortable from the line of questioning from Australian journalists on sensitive issues including the secret incarceration of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, the militarisation of the South China Sea, "re-education camps" for Muslim minorities in the country, strict media censorship and the potential use of force against Taiwan.

In the early going his speech tried to focus on the positives in the relationship, including a growing trading partnership. Mr Qian struck a conciliatory tone and said the new Australian government offered a promising chance to reset the frosty bilateral relationship.

Mr Qian also took a swipe at Australia's media, lamenting what he perceived as the overly negative coverage of the country (which has banished Australian foreign correspondents).

"The coverage on China is many times misleading, it’s harming the friendship," he complained.

However he had a more difficult time defending certain Chinese policies when those same media members stepped up to the microphone.

China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Source: AAP
China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Source: AAP

On the potential re-education of Taiwan:

China's ambassador to France recently said the country would need to re-educate the Taiwanese people once it takes over the island. After initially dancing around a question on these remarks, Mr Qian gave a revealing answer on the controversial topic.

"My personal understanding is that once Taiwan is reunited, coming back to the motherland, there might be process for the people in Taiwan to have a correct understanding of China about the motherland," he said.

On a military base in the Pacific:

Mr Qian denied China was seeking a military base in the Solomon Islands – something that has deeply worried Australian officials.

"There is no intention for China to set up the so-called military base in Solomon Islands and the leader of the country have stated similar thing," he told the Canberra audience.

On journalist Cheng Lei and trade tariffs:

When asked about trade tariffs and the secret incarceration of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, the ambassador played a straight bat.

"Currently, there have been top level communications, high level contacts even face-to-face contacts, but we have not yet come to the stage to discuss about how to solve those specific issues either political issues or trade issues or some other individual cases issues," he said.

On potential Albanese and Xi Jinping meeting:

Despite a recent thaw in relations, the Chinese ambassador appeared to pour cold water on the likelihood of Anthony Albanese being invited to a face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart.

"On the the bilateral relationship, as I said, our policy towards Australia remains unchanged," he said.

And it sounds like maybe Xi isn't ready for a meeting.

"If you are talking bad about me, why should I meet you? You humiliated me publicly, should I meet you to be humiliated again face-to-face?" the ambassador said.

On China's tacit support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine:

When asked about China's refusal to denounce Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Mr Qian responded with a typically evasive and empty response, saying "there's no simple answer to a question of complexity".

"If you look at what has happened in Ukraine, it involves many aspects."

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