Beijing once again warned the United States to stop meeting Taiwan officials, marking a new escalation of tensions over the self-ruled island the Chinese regime regards as its breakaway province.
The regime complained after Taiwan Vice President William Lai held a brief informal talk with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris during a trip to Honduras, and a virtual meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a stopover in the United States.
“China always opposed any form of official interaction between the United States and Taiwan,” said Zhao Lijian, the regime’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, in a media briefing last Friday.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, nevertheless, pledged to "stride out" into the world in her Lunar New Year greeting on Sunday, striking a defiant tone in the face of unrelenting Chinese pressure.
Tsai thanked democratic nations for their assistance to the island over the past year in her greeting. Lai also expressed gratitude to U.S. lawmakers on his last day in the United States for providing Taiwan with much-needed COVID-19 vaccines last June.
The U.S.-Taiwan official contacts came soon after Beijing sent 52 military planes into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) last week.
Beijing dispatched 39 warplanes to Taiwan's surrounding areas on Jan. 23, and the next day sent 13 more, including two J-16D electronic warfare fighters for the first time.
Qin Gang, the Chinese regime’s ambassador to Washington, D.C., told National Public Radio in an interview broadcast on Friday that the Taiwan issue is the biggest tinder-box between China and the United States.
“If the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, keep going down the road for independence,” it will most likely result in a military conflict between China and the United States.
The regime has never ruled out using force to bring the island under its control. It claims the island as its own, despite Taiwan being a de facto independent country, with its own military, democratically-elected government, and constitution.
The United States is the island's significant supporter and arms supplier even though it does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Last June, Senator Tammy Duckworth visited Taipei with two other U.S. lawmakers, and announced that the United States would donate 750,000 vaccine doses to Taiwan.
Tsai had condemned Beijing less than two weeks prior for hindering the island nation from accessing vaccines internationally. Beijing angrily denied the claim. In the meantime, it pushed Chinese-made vaccine doses onto the island, which Taiwan rejected due to safety concerns.
Taiwan has recently received backing not only from the United States, its traditional defender, but also from leaders and politicians in Japan, Europe, and the G7 group of industrialized nations, all of which have enraged Beijing.
When asked to comment on Qin's remark, the U.S. Defense Department said it would stick to its "one China" policy, and its commitments under the U.S.-Taiwan Relations Act.
Under the long-standing policy, Washington officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, while the Act requires the United States to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.
The State Department eased restrictions on official contacts with Taiwan last April as the United States tried to counter China’s challenges to the island’s sovereignty.
Reuters contributed to this report.