TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan lashed out at the Chinese defense minister's renewed threat to use force to assert China's claim to the island, accusing Beijing of creating unease in the region and seeking to "expand its hegemony."
A statement from the Cabinet's Mainland Affairs Council targeted comments Defense Minister Wei Fenghe made in Singapore on Sunday in which he said China would "resolutely take action" to defend its claim to Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The council asserted later Sunday that Taiwan has never been a part of the People's Republic of China and would never accept Beijing's threats. It accused China of "challenging international norms and order" and said Beijing's claim to seek peaceful development had been recognized internationally as "a lie of the ages."
"We need to remind the public that the Chinese Communist Party is practicing anti-democracy, anti-peace between the two sides of the strait and further resorting to war. This is the main cause of the tension in the Taiwan Strait and the region, and it is the source of danger and provocation against peace and stability," the statement said.
It said Taiwan, which is heavily dependent on U.S. arms for its defense, would continue to strengthen its armed forces, "defend its national sovereignty and democratic system," and uphold the right of the island's 23 million people to "freely choose their own future."
The sides split amid civil war in 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek moved his Nationalist government to Taiwan ahead of the Communist takeover of the mainland. Taiwan had been a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945.
China considers annexation of Taiwan to be an inevitability, and in his speech, Wei said Beijing was prepared to fight any opponent to make that happen.
"China must be and will be reunified. We find no excuse not to do so. If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs, at all costs, for national unity," Wei said.
China has boosted such muscle flexing since the 2016 election of independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who has infuriated Beijing by refusing to endorse its contention that Taiwan is a part of China. Surveys show solid majorities of Taiwanese favor maintaining the current state of de-facto independence and reject China's call for unification with Beijing under the "one country, two systems" framework now applied to Hong Kong.
China has also upped diplomatic pressure by poaching several of the island's dwindling number of allies and barring Taiwan's representatives from international gatherings, no matter how non-political in nature. It has also discouraged Chinese tourists from visiting the island and sought to win over Taiwanese investors by offering them many of the same terms and conditions offered to native Chinese.