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Chinese military sounds first warning to Taiping Island leasing

US Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a three-day trip to China. Photo: Getty Images

The Chinese military has broken its silence over speculations by pro-independence forces in Taiwan to lease the Taiping Island under its control in the South China Sea to the United States, and branded the initiative as “a very dangerous idea”.

At its latest regular press briefing in Beijing, Spokesman for China’s ministry of national defense Wu Qian said the suggestion to lease Taiping Island to the United States was a very dangerous idea which would be strongly and firmly opposed by the Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

“The People’s Liberation Army has the capabilities and determination to preserve the sovereignty and the security of China”, said the senior colonel who did not refuse to answer the question over Taiping Island but apparently trying to reply as brief and resolute as possible.

This was the first time that the Chinese military voiced its opposition to the suggestion by pro-independence forces in Taiwan to lease the Taiping Island to the US armed forces on alleged humanitarian relief grounds.

Taiping Island, with an area of 0.54 square kilometers and located in the northern part of the South China sea, was under the control o f Taiwan with some 200 marines, and the idea of leasing the island to the US forces first surfaced in the year 2016 when a pro-independence defense think tank in Taiwan advised the Taiwan government to take such an action and develop the island into a rescue and logistic supply center in northern South China sea.

The future of the island caught media and public attention again as US Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders over military exchanges between the two countries as well as the South China Sea and Taiwan issue.

Nationalist media and organizations in China have warned against serious consequences of leasing Taiping Island to the United States under any excuses, which would actually build up US military presence on the strategically located island and further complicate the South China Sea situation. Furthermore, leasing the island to US forces, even on humanitarian grounds, would be de facto military cooperation with Taiwan in essence which stepped on the red lines of Beijing.

Beijing has repeatedly reiterated that the Taiwan issue was at the core of its interests, and was the most crucial and sensitive issue in bilateral ties with the United States and any other countries as well, Beijing could show flexibilities and even make concessions on all issues, including accepting economic pains in its trade war with Washington, but the nationalist leadership in Beijing would not show any political weakness and would not back down even an inch from the Taiwan issue.

Beijing has used all possible occasions to reaffirm its most basic line in international diplomacy that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China, and Beijing could hardly conceal its indignation over recent US moves to encourage exchange of visits between US and Taiwan officials, hawkish voices in Washington to step up military cooperation with Taiwan and send back marines to take part in its military exercises and to sell more and advanced weapons to the island to shore up its defense capabilities.

The recent moves by the United States to send its warships under the name of free navigation to the South China Sea islands under Chinese control was also seen by Beijing as military provocations and undermining the peace and stability in the region.

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