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Emmanuel Macron has been warned he has increased the risk of China invading Taiwan with his “ill-advised and unhelpful” remarks this week. Speaking after military exercises during which a Chinese aircraft carrier “sealed off” the island, Professor Steve Tsang suggested it was “only a matter of time” before President Xi Jinping resorted to force.
And the Director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) urged the international community to treat the prospect of a full-scale war with the utmost seriousness in the face of Beijing’s growing belligerence.
China finished three days of drills earlier this week, involving 91 aircraft and 12 warships including its Shandong aircraft carrier, with the exercises taking place days after the visit to the US of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen with the clear intention of sending a signal to Washington.
Meanwhile, speaking on Monday after returning from a three-day state visit, French President Mr Macron stoked controversy with remarks which threatened to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States.
Specifically, he stressed the need for “European autonomy”, adding: “The worst of things would be to think that we Europeans must be followers on this subject and adapt ourselves to an American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction.”
Prof Tsang described Mr Macron’s remarks as “both ill-advised and unhelpful”.
He told Express.co.uk: “The exercises were really not surprising.
“They were conducted because Beijing intended to impose a cost on Taiwan for the meeting that President Tsai had with Speaker McCarthy in California.
“The timing too was unsurprising since Macron’s stance on Taiwan gave Beijing a good reason not to embarrass him when he was still on the state visit in China.”
However, he continued: “What is not expected was the deployment of jets from China’s second carrier, the Shandong, to intrude into Taiwan’s airspace off Taiwan’s east coast.
“This was clearly done to show that Taiwan can no longer count on its east coast as safe, since it is meant to be protected from the high mountains that separate east from west Taiwan.
“But it is a matter of time when this will happen, as China’s carrier programme has always been meant to deliver such an outcome.”
Recent events had demonstrated the very real risk of a war over Taiwan materialising, Prof Tsang stressed.
He explained: “Unless Xi has his way over Taiwan, which means Taiwan surrendering without a fight, it is a matter of time before Xi will use force to take Taiwan, with dire consequences for not just, Taiwan, China and the region but for the peace, stability and economic prosperity of the world.
“The US government has an obligation under the American Taiwan Relations Act to take appropriate actions in response to a Chinese use of force against Taiwan, and the risk of escalation to a war is real.”
Prof Tsang added: “Macron’s statement about Taiwan will have increased the risk of Beijing calculating that Europeans (or at least the French) will not support the USA and thus the costs of a war will be less.
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“This increases the risk of a miscalculation and thus of a conflict over Taiwan.
“What the world needs is to make sure war will not break out over Taiwan, and China under Xi is the only country that will start a war over Taiwan.”
Mr Macron also used his interview with Politico and Les Echos to say the European Union should become a “third superpower” – drawing a subtle rebuke from Rishi Sunak on Thursday.
Speaking to the ConservativeHome website, the UK Prime Minister said: “On this question about European superpowers… we left the EU, we are the UK.
“We don’t need to be part of the EU to be a foreign policy superpower, we are a foreign policy superpower.”
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