Virtually addressing participants at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 11, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for greater international involvement in the Taiwan Strait to support the Taipei government against the Chinese mainland. “We must not leave them behind at the mercy of another country which is more powerful in financial terms, in territorial terms and in terms of equipment,” he added in an interview after the address. Zelensky further used the summit to call for greater support for Kiev in its ongoing war with Russia. Although China has taken a neutral position in the Russian-Ukrainian war, abstaining from voting on the issue at the United Nations while banning arms sales to both sides, Zelensky’s seemingly unprovoked call for action against Beijing has the potential to precipitate a worsening of relations. The former comedian turned politician has been held up in the West as a symbol of a global fight for Western political values, with his statement on Taiwan echoing similar calls among hawks in multiple NATO member states to further militarise the strait and ensure Taiwan’s continued separation from the mainland.
The government in Taipei, officially the Republic of China government, has been technically at war with the internationally recognised Chinese government based in Beijing for over 70 years. Both claim in their constitutions to be the sole governments of all China, with the territories of Taiwan and the mainland recognised by both as being part of the same country. This is recognised by the United Nations and without exception by all UN member states. Arming forces on Taiwan has been controversial due to the territory’s international status, comparable to that of a non state actor, which lacks any UN recognition. While the U.S. long refrained from major arms sales to the territory, including under both the George W Bush and Barak Obama administrations, the Donald Trump administration escalated sales considerably as part of a broader policy of moving towards greater confrontation with Beijing.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 12, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe stated following remarks by Zelensky and growing numbers of Western officials on Taiwan: “Let me make this clear: if anyone dares to split Taiwan out of China, we will not hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs. We will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China.” He stressed the need for eventual peaceful reunification, adding that division was a result of the Chinese Civil War which is still technically ongoing between the two rival Chinese governments. With figures in the ruling party in Taipei the DPP indicating that a formal secession from China to declare a ‘Republic of Taiwan’ could be under consideration, which would almost certainly warrant military intervention by the mainland, moves by Western powers to bolster forces on Taiwan are seen as a possible preparation for this.