China on Saturday condemned the British government’s decision to send its only aircraft carrier to international waters and reaffirmed that any move toward a Taiwanese union with mainland China is fraught with danger.
“As responsible democratic countries, Britain and China are strong partners in opposing wars and use of force,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement posted to the ministry’s website. “It is very worrying for China that Britain is now forging an arms trade with Taiwan and even sending its only aircraft carrier into international waters near China.”
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Friday that HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest warship in the Royal Navy, was on a scheduled trip that would last no more than one week. Fallon added that the Royal Navy “operates around 70 ships worldwide and is responsible for maintaining peace and stability.”
Chinese officials were likely to be particularly concerned that Queen Elizabeth, which began patrolling the Pacific earlier this year, was spotted near the Taiwan Strait in the Taiwan Strait for the first time. Tensions over the island’s military have been high in recent years, and China has tried to force Taiwan to reunify with the mainland, triggering threats of military force against Taiwan from Beijing.
“Any political moves towards unification with Taiwan are doomed to failure,” Lu Kang said. “Only force, which will inevitably be applied to force, can deliver success.”
The announcement of Queen Elizabeth’s voyage has renewed speculation that China’s military is preparing for a broad military build-up next year, to coincide with the centennial of the end of World War I.
“There has been recent evidence that Beijing intends to undertake a new phase of military modernization that may include carrying out more provocative patrols in the South China Sea and conducting more aircraft carrier operations in the Taiwan Strait,” Michael Clarke, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, wrote in a commentary published by Business Insider on Saturday.
Taiwanese military sources say that China has for some time tried to “leverage” Taiwan’s own military to try to persuade President Tsai Ing-wen’s government to reorient the island toward the mainland. Taiwanese defense officials denied that the moves were a bid to bring Taiwan back under mainland control, and Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan told The Washington Post that “the presence of aircraft carriers isn’t abnormal.”
Thursday’s operations illustrate China’s “utter disregard for international law,” Kerry said. “It was irresponsible and irresponsible in a way that the United States will not stand in the way.”
The British warship’s deployment coincides with some long-time U.S. and Taiwanese national security officials worrying about a brewing crisis in the Taiwan Strait that they say may not have been raised with Tsai.
Asked why he appeared to have sat out a potential crisis, Defense Secretary Yee told his local paper that “there is always a debate. It’s a complete frank discussion, and we discuss our options with Taiwan.”
The concerns are being driven by a new generation of China-friendly Taiwanese politicians who say that the time for solidarity with the mainland is past. China recently helped Taiwan hold presidential elections that returned Tsai to power, but Taiwan doesn’t want a new clash, and Beijing has indicated that it is prepared to escalate military conflicts.
“When you have a battle under way, there will be a parade after you have beaten the enemy,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said last year, according to the Financial Times. “We hope Taiwan can be well versed with military strategy and know when to change its point of view.”