A senior Chinese diplomat has ignited a war of words with Taiwanese officials after claiming that Beijing would use force to reunite the island nation if U.S. warships make port calls there.

“At a Chinese embassy event in Washington on Friday, diplomat Li Kexin said he had told U.S. officials that China would activate its Anti-Secession Law, which allows it to use force on Taiwan if deemed necessary to prevent the island from seceding, if the United States sent navy ships to Taiwan.,” said a published report.

“The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Chinese media at the weekend quoted Li as saying, referring to Taiwan’s main port.

China has long considered Taiwan nothing more than a renegade province and has never renounced the notion it could use force to reunite the self-ruled island with the mainland.

The U.S. has no formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan but is bound by law to defend it and supply it with arms.

“Li’s words have sent a warning to Taiwan and drew a clear red line,” the Chinese state-run Global Times said in an editorial. “If Taiwan attempts to hold an independence referendum or other activities in pursuit of de jure ‘Taiwan independence’, the PLA will undoubtedly take action.”

Chinese leaders believe that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who leads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, is angling to declare the island’s formal independence. [source]

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