The warning comes days after China stepped up its military activities and flew warplanes near the island. It also comes after new US President Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to Taiwan, and set out his stance in Asia.
The US has called China’s latest warning “unfortunate”, adding that tensions did not need to lead to “anything like confrontation”.
China sees democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state, with its own constitution, military, and elected leaders.
Analysts say Beijing is becoming increasingly concerned that Taiwan’s government is moving the island towards a formal declaration of independence and it wants to warn President Tsai Ing-wen against taking steps in that direction. President Tsai, however, has repeatedly said that Taiwan is already a independent state, making any formal declaration unnecessary.
On Thursday, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian defended the recent military activities near Taiwan, saying they were “necessary actions to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty and security”.
“They are a solemn response to external interference and provocations by ‘Taiwan independence’ forces,” he added. “We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements – those who play with fire will burn themselves, and Taiwan independence means war.”