China’s ambassador to US warns of possible military conflict over Taiwan

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Unusually explicit reference to prospect of war comes as tensions over island’s future continue to rise

China’s ambassador to the US has said the two countries could face a “military conflict” over the future of Taiwan, in an unusually explicit reference to the prospect of war.

“The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States,” Qin Gang told the US public broadcaster National Public Radio (NPR), on Friday. “If the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely will involve China and the United States, the two big countries, in the military conflict.”

Tensions over the island’s place in the world continue to grow. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province of China. In November the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, told Joe Biden that any support for Taiwanese independence from the US would be “like playing with fire” and that “those who play with fire will get burned”.

Related: China sends largest incursion of warplanes into Taiwan defence zone since October

Beijing has been ratcheting up its pressure on the democratically ruled island in recent years. In October Xi vowed to realise “reunification” with Taiwan by peaceful means. But on Sunday China’s air force flew 39 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone – the largest daily number since October.

The US and some of its allies have in the past few months advocated for Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in the UN system”, a move that angered China. The UK parliament’s foreign affairs committee reportedly plans to visit Taiwan next month.

Qin blamed the current state of affairs on the Taiwanese administration. He accused it of “seek[ing] its independence agenda by borrowing the support and the encouragement of the United States”. He added: “And the United States is playing the Taiwan card to contain China.”

Analysts say that although Qin’s warning to Washington is unusual, he also pointed out in the NPR interview that the bilateral ties constituted China’s “most important relationship”.

“Such a confrontation would risk a permanent rupture in the bilateral relationship,” said Ali Wyne, a senior analyst on US-China relations at Eurasia Group in Washington. “While China often avows that its ‘great rejuvenation’ is predicated upon Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland, there are probably few other steps Beijing could take that would undermine its long-term strategic prospects as greatly as attacking Taipei.”