Prospect of peaceful 'reunification' with Taiwan being 'eroded', China says

Shangri-la Dialogue, in Singapore

By Xinghui Kok and Fanny Potkin

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -The prospect of peaceful "reunification" with Taiwan is being increasingly "eroded" by Taiwanese separatists and external forces, Chinese Defence Minister Dong Jun said on Sunday, drawing an angry response from the government in Taipei.

China views democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, over the strong objections of the government there, and last month staged war games round the island in anger at the May 20 inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, whom Beijing calls a "separatist".

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue conference in Singapore, Dong said Taiwan was the "core of core issues" for China, but Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party is incrementally pursuing separatism and bent on erasing Chinese identity.

"Those separatists recently made fanatical statements that show their betrayal of the Chinese nation and their ancestors. They will be nailed to the pillar of shame in history," he said.

After his speech, Dong was asked several questions by delegates but he remained focused on Taiwan and had to be prompted by the moderator to address other issues.

He accused foreign powers of interfering in "domestic issues", and "emboldening Taiwan separatists".

Dong added that while China was committed to peaceful reunification with Taiwan, the People's Liberation Army "will remain a strong force for upholding national reunification".

"We will take resolute actions to curb Taiwan independence and make sure such a plot never succeeds," he said. "We're very confident in our capability to deter Taiwan independence."

Taiwan’s presidential office said China had misrepresented the Taiwan government’s position at the forum, where Taiwan was not allowed to send representatives.

"China lacks the confidence to engage in dialogue with the Taiwan government, and its irrational remarks cannot gain international recognition," the office said in a statement.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, which makes policy concerning China, said it deeply regretted the "provocative and irrational" comments, and reiterated that the People's Republic of China has never ruled the island.

China has repeatedly threatened force against Taiwan at international venues, and its threats were in violation of the United Nations charter, the council said in a statement.

"It is an objective fact that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are not subordinate to each other, and that is also the status quo in the strait," it said.

China has been repeatedly angered by U.S. support for Taiwan and arms sales to the island, even in the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Washington and Taipei.

"Every year for three years, a new Chinese defence minister has come to Shangri-La," said a U.S. official.

"And every year, they've given a speech at complete odds with the reality of the PLA's coercive activity across the region. This year was no different."

Dong called the U.S. arms sales a test of China's "red lines".

"They are selling a lot of weapons to Taiwan. This kind of behaviour sends very wrong signals to the Taiwan independence forces and makes them become very aggressive. I think we are clear that the foreign power's true purpose is to use Taiwan to contain China."

Andrew Yang, a former Taiwan defence minister, said Beijing has said it will pursue "reunification" by winning the hearts and minds of Taiwanese but "their deeds have yet to match their words". Beijing instead is "holding a big stick" and is "confrontational and contradictory", he said.

Yang said he hopes the U.S. will keep to its schedule of arms sales to Taiwan so the island can enhance its self-defence.

Taiwan has for the last two years complained of delays in deliveries of U.S. weapons, such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, as manufacturers supply Ukraine to support it in the war against Russia.

Taiwan's president, Lai, has repeatedly offered talks with Beijing, but been rebuffed. He says only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

(Reporting by Xinghui Kok and Fanny Potkin; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, and Liz Lee in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Tom Hogue)