Singapore’s former top diplomat warned on Monday that a conflict in Taiwan would trigger a Chinese response akin to the US reaction to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated its entrance into World War II.
Former Foreign Minister George Yeo told Bloomberg Television, without naming anyone, that “people” don’t understand just how deep an issue Taiwan is for China and underestimate the severity of a conflict if one were to come. Already fraught ties between the US and China have continued to deteriorate since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visited the self-governing island last month amid concerns a miscalculation could lead to conflict.
“If there is conflict over Taiwan -- let us say that China loses the first few battles, gets bloodied -- it will evoke in the Chinese body politic a reaction as profound as that in the US of Pearl Harbor,” he said. “This is that serious, and people who do not know the history do not realize the game they’re playing.”
Since Pelosi’s visit, China has sent warplanes across the Taiwan Strait’s so-called median line almost daily, shrinking a buffer zone that has helped keep the peace for decades. The flights show how Beijing is attempting to use the visit to establish a lasting presence closer to Taiwan.
“There are people who think that Taiwan is a card to be played,” Yeo said. “They don’t realize how serious this game is. For China, it’s deeply emotional.”
A former brigadier-general, Yeo served in Singapore’s government for 23 years, including as its top envoy between 2004 and 2011. During that time he drove several policies that deepened ties with the US -- from a bilateral free trade agreement to a security framework ensuring cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Russia’s war in Ukraine, he said the Chinese are “sitting pretty,” neither supporting the West’s position nor outwardly condoning the conflict, while Washington is now distracted by the events in Europe. And Beijing stands to benefit economically due to cheaper Russian oil.
“China is playing a very careful balancing game,” he said.