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Cui Tiankai, who stepped down as China’s ambassador to Washington in 2021, at the Asia Society panel discussion in Washington. Photo: YouTube/ @asiasociety

China will not fall into ‘trap’ of war in Taiwan Strait: former envoy Cui Tiankai

  • China’s longest-serving ambassador to Washington tells conference ‘someone’ may be preparing for proxy conflict with Chinese killing Chinese
  • Cui’s remarks were an apparent reference to US arms sales to Taiwan, which have continued despite Beijing’s objections
China’s former ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said Beijing will not fall into a trap of “someone” starting a war in the Taiwan Strait.

“We certainly don’t want to see a situation where Chinese are killing Chinese,” he told the Asia Spotlight conference.

In a panel discussion on the geopolitical outlook, as part of the Asia Society Policy Institute event in Washington on January 25, Cui said China’s first priority in foreign policy “is always relations with the United States”.

In footage posted online on January 30, Cui did not comment on the possible election of Donald Trump, but said he hoped Washington would take into account the interests of Asia-Pacific countries, including China.

Cui, who is now an adviser to the official Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, also said that Asia-Pacific countries should work to stop tensions in the region worsening to Cold War levels or run the risk of a “dangerous decade”.

Cui was China’s longest-serving ambassador to the US since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979, spending more than eight years in the role before stepping down in 2021.

He concluded his remarks with mention of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of its territory, to be brought under mainland control by force if necessary.

Cui said that Taiwan’s recent election “was a local election in China”. He added that “we will achieve reunification one way or another” but in a way that “best serves the national interests of the entire Chinese nation”.

Like most countries, the US does not recognise Taiwan as an independent state. But Washington opposes any change in the cross-strait status quo and is committed to supplying Taipei with weapons.

In an apparent reference to Washington’s continued arms sales to Taiwan, Cui said that “someone may be preparing for us that they will supply military assistance, they will supply weapons for proxy war, and Chinese will be killing Chinese. We will not fall into that trap”.

Taiwan is one of the biggest sources of tension between Beijing and Washington – “the most dangerous issue” in the relationship, President Xi Jinping told his US counterpart Joe Biden at their summit in November.

At the San Francisco meeting, Xi demanded an end to US arms sales to Taiwan. However, the State Department approved a US$300 million weapons sale to the island in December.

Cui’s comments on January 25 were made less than two weeks after the election in Taiwan of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party’s William Lai Ching-te, who has been repeatedly described by Beijing as a “stubborn separatist”.

Two days after Lai’s election, one of Taiwan’s few remaining allies, the Pacific island nation of Nauru, severed diplomatic ties with Taipei and switched recognition to Beijing.

The mainland’s Civil Aviation Administration also changed a civil aviation flight path shortly after the vote, bringing it closer to the sensitive median line, the nominal midway point in the Taiwan Strait. Some analysts believe the change could affect Taipei’s air defence deployments.