China and the United States could end up in a military conflict if the United States encourages Taiwan’s independence, Beijing’s ambassador to Washington Qin Gang has said.
“Let me emphasise this. The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States,” Qin told US media outlet National Public Radio in an interview broadcast 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 a military conflict,” he added.
There was no immediate comment from US authorities. The interview aired just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed the crisis over Ukraine.
China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has increased pressure in the past two years to assert its sovereignty claims.
However, while Chinese officials have warned of military action over Taiwan, it is unusual for them to link it directly to the US.
Tensions have also escalated in recent months as China’s military has conducted repeated air missions over the Taiwan Strait, the waterway separating the island from China.
Though the US does not have official ties with Taiwan, it is its top backer and arms supplier.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told Congress last year that China wants the ability to invade and hold Taiwan within the next six years but might not intend to do so in the near term.