‘Don’t play with fire’: China warns US on Taiwan

The warning came after the US issued guidelines enabling easier contact between US and Taiwanese officials.

Taiwan is China's most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue, and a regular source of friction between Washington and Beijing [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

China has warned the United States “not to play with fire” on Taiwan issues after the Department of State updated its guidelines easing restrictions on meetings between US officials and their counterparts from the island, which Beijing claims as its own.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged the US to “immediately stop any form of US-Taiwan official contacts, cautiously and appropriately handle the matter, and not send wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces so as not to subversively influence and damage Sino-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue, and a regular source of friction between Washington and Beijing, which has never ruled out using force to bring the democratically ruled island under its control.

Lijian’s comments came after the US decided on Friday to update its guidance to deepen relations with Taiwan, in a move that shows President Joe Biden’s willingness to formalise the increasingly vocal US support for the island.

China’s aggressive action

The US has recognised Beijing as China’s legitimate government since 1979 when the countries established diplomatic relations and downgraded relations with Taiwan.

The new guidelines will do away with some of the convoluted rules that restricted dealings with the island, including in-person meetings.

As the US seeks closer relations with Taiwan, China has been stepping up its military activity around the island in the past months. Monday marked the largest reported Chinese incursion to date, with 25 Chinese air force aircraft, including fighter jets and nuclear-capable bombers, entering Taiwan’s air defence zone.

China has in the past said such missions were to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday the US is concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan and warned it would be a “serious mistake” for anyone to try to change the status quo in the western Pacific by force.

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced days before the end of former President Donald Trump’s presidency in January that he was lifting restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.

The US is Taiwan’s most important international supporter and arms supplier and is required by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

China believes the US is colluding with Taiwan to challenge Beijing and support those who want the island to declare formal independence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies