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Beijing toughened its language towards Taiwan on Thursday, warning that “independence means war”.
Taiwan, still claimed by China as its own territory, reported multiple Chinese warplanes entering its airspace last weekend, prompting Washington to urge Beijing to stop pressuring the small island nation.
Beijing believes that Taiwan’s democratically elected government is moving the island towards a declaration of formal independence.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said the island is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a briefing: “The military activities carried out by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army are necessary actions to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty and security. They are a solemn response to external interference and provocations by ‘Taiwan independence’ forces.”
He said a “handful” of people in Taiwan are seeking the island’s independence. “We warn those who play with fire will burn themselves, and ‘Taiwan independence’ means war.”
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, but it is unusual for Beijing to make such explicit threats.
Asked about the threats, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reaffirmed longstanding US military support to Taiwan’s self-defence and said there was no reason that tensions between China and Taiwan “need to lead to anything like confrontation”.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said China should think carefully and not underestimate the island’s determination to defend its sovereignty and uphold freedom and democracy.
The Chinese air incursions coincided with a US carrier battle group entering the disputed South China Sea to promote “freedom of the seas”.