China’s defence ministry spokesman warned against any move of a formal declaration of independence by Taiwan, stating that “those who play with fire will burn themselves”. However, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen told the BBC that the nation did not feel the need to engage in China’s confrontational language. President Tsai said: “We don’t have a need to declare ourselves an independent state”.
Taiwan has upgraded its homeland defences with sophisticated mobile anti-ship missiles.
Taiwan’s mainland affairs council said China should “not underestimate” the island’s ability to defend itself and to protect freedom and democracy.
The US responded to China’s threat by calling it “unfortunate”.
This warning comes after Bejing intensified its naval drills off the coast of Taiwan.
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The spokesperson added: “We see no reason why tensions over Taiwan need to lead to anything like confrontation”.
China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Taipei has been an independent nation since the closing of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Since that date, when the Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan the island has had its own constitution, military, and more recently, its own elected leaders.
A formal declaration of independence from Taipei would be seen as a challenge to Xi Jinping’s leadership and many analysts fear he would be compelled to act militarily.
On Thursday, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said China’s military drills off the coast of Taiwan were “necessary actions to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait”.
He said that they were also necessary “to safeguard national sovereignty and security”.
He added: “They are a solemn response to external interference and provocations by ‘Taiwan independence’ forces.
“We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements, those who play with fire will burn themselves, and Taiwan independence means war.”