Chinese President Xi Jinping warned self-ruled Taiwan on Tuesday that it will face the “punishment of history” for any attempt at separatism, offering his strongest warning yet to the island claimed by China as its sacred territory.
In a speech at the end of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, Xi told the 3,000-odd delegates that China would push for the “peaceful reunification of the motherland” and work for more Taiwanese to enjoy the opportunities of China’s development, Reuters reports.
“It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realize China’s complete reunification,” Xi said.
“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history,” he added, to loud applause.
China has the will, confidence and ability to defeat any separatist activities, Xi said.
“The Chinese people share a common belief that it is never allowed and it is absolutely impossible to separate any inch of our great country’s territory from China.”
Taiwan is one of China’s most sensitive issues and a potentially dangerous military flashpoint.
China’s hostility towards Taiwan has risen since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.
China suspects Tsai wants to push for formal independence, which would cross a red line for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, though Tsai has said she wants to maintain the status quo and is committed to ensuring peace.
China has been infuriated by US President Donald Trump’s signing into law legislation last week that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.
The United States does not have formal ties with Taiwan but is required by law to help it with self-defense and is the island’s primary source of weapons.
China has also been worried about independence activists in the former British colony of Hong Kong following massive street protests in the city in 2014 for universal suffrage.
Xi said China would uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, but also seek to increase “national consciousness and patriotic spirit” in the Asian financial center.
Proudly democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by autocratic China, and has accused China of not understanding how democracy works, pointing out that Taiwan’s people have the right to decide its future.
The new US law on Taiwan adds to strains between China and the US over trade, as Trump has enacted tariffs and called for China to reduce its huge trade imbalance with the US, even while Washington has leaned on Beijing to help resolve tensions with North Korea.
Taiwan has thanked the US for the law and its support, but its foreign ministry said on Monday there were no plans for any senior leaders, such as the president, to visit the country.
While China’s stepped up military drills around Taiwan over the past year have rattled Taipei, Xi reiterated claims that China’s rise was not a threat to any country, though China considers Taiwan to be merely a Chinese province, not a nation.
“Only those who are in the habit of threatening others will see everyone else as a threat,” Xi said.
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