Collage of the Flags of the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, U.S.

China’s top diplomat warned countries to stay out of its relationship with Taiwan or face the possibility of a “dangerous” outcome after South Korea’s president weighed in on the issue and while the U.S. conducted its largest military exercise with the Philippines ever.

Qin Gang, the Chinese foreign minister, told reporters that countries who “play with fire…will eventually get burnt.”

The Financial Times reported that Qin’s comment seemed to be in response to South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol who said China wants to change the “status quo” of the island by force. He said the “international community absolutely opposes such a change.”

“The Taiwan issue is not simply an issue between China and Taiwan but, like the issue of North Korea, it’s a global issue,” Yoon said, according to Reuters.

China is South Korea’s most important trade partner and Seoul has historically made it a point not to cross Beijing. Seoul is trying to accomplish a very sensitive balancing act, and while its population does not particularly care for the Chinese leadership, money comes before war.

Qin called the South Korean leader’s comment “absurd.”

“The Taiwan question is the core of the core interests of China,” Qin said. “We will never back down in the face of any act that undermines China’s sovereignty and security. Those who play with fire on Taiwan will eventually get themselves burnt.”

Seoul found Qin’s comments inflammatory and summoned China’s ambassador to the country, Xing Haiming, in protest. 

“In response to our leader’s mention of the universal principle that we oppose the change of the status quo by force, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson made an unspeakable statement,” the South Korean ministry said. “The spokesperson’s remarks must be pointed out as a serious diplomatic discourtesy that calls into question China’s national integrity.”

U.S. Exercise With the Philippines

The Trends Journal reported that the U.S. and the Philippines have been conducting their biggest combat exercises ever in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. (See “U.S. RAMPING UP WAR WITH CHINA,” 18 Apr 2023.)

We also noted that Manila agreed to give the U.S. access to four additional bases, including one that is about 250 miles from Taiwan. The Philippine government, like Seoul, wants to avoid problems with China, and said these bases cannot be used to store weapons for a future conflict over Taiwan, Responsible Statecraft reported.

Huang Xilian, a Chinese envoy, said the Philippines is “stoking the fire,” and the new base access for the U.S. “has caused widespread and grave concern among Chinese people.”

The Manila Bulletin reported that the U.S. and the Philippines employed Patriot missile systems and Black Hawk helicopters during a recent exercise. 

Qin visited Manila on Saturday and called on the country to “continue our traditional friendship…keep our promises to each other… and inject greater positive energy for the peace and stability of this region and even the whole world.”

Washington and Manilla have been growing increasingly close since the May 2022 inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the former U.S.-backed dictator of the same name.

TREND FORECAST: The Trends Journal maintains its forecast that the U.S. would not come to Taiwan’s defense if / when China decides to invade. This will cause serious damage to Washington’s relationship with allies in the Indo-Pacific region, but even most of these countries don’t seek war with China.

Indeed, the Philippines is using the U.S. to help counter China’s expanding claims to the water in the region. Manila has made it clear that it has no interest in defending Taiwan. 

“The Philippines’ unwillingness to let the U.S. use bases on its territory to fight a war over Taiwan drives home the point that the U.S. would mostly be on its own if it chose to fight. That would make an already very difficult and dangerous war even more so,” Daniel Larison, a regular columnist at Responsible Statecraft, wrote.

China sees the base access differently. 

Huang Xilian, the Chinese ambassador, said last week that it is obvious that the U.S. will take advantage of these new bases and use them to “interfere in the situation across Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals,” according to the Financial Times. He said the Philippines will oppose “Taiwan independence” if it cares about the 150,000 Philippine overseas workers on the island.

It should also be noted that Seoul is by no means a reliable ally for the U.S. if China invades Taiwan.

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, wrote in The Diplomat that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would likely include missile strikes on U.S. bases in South Korea. But he said, “Seoul’s desire to limit the damage in its relations with Beijing is strong enough that strikes on South Korean territory that killed only Americans would not necessarily bring South Korea into the war as a combatant against China.”

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