Two members of a Taiwanese Navy honor guard fold Taiwan's flag during a ceremony in Taipei. Photo: AFP / Mandy Cheng
Two members of a Taiwanese Navy honor guard fold Taiwan's flag during a ceremony in Taipei. Photo: AFP / Mandy Cheng

Comments from Chinese diplomat Li Kexin over the weekend have been the subject of a back and forth, as Taiwanese authorities characterized his words as a threat to the island.

“The day that a US Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Chinese media reported Chinese diplomat Li Kexin as saying.

Taiwan, which has been fully self-governing since 1949, is considered by Beijing to be a wayward province of China. Any actions on the part of Taiwanese authorities aimed at promoting formal independence could theoretically trigger China’s anti-secession law, which would authorize the use of force to unify the territory.

In response to Li’s comments, Taiwan’s foreign ministry was reported by Reuters as saying that “while Chinese officials seemed to want to try and win over hearts and minds in Taiwan, they also had been repeatedly using threats that hurt the feelings of Taiwan’s people.”

“These methods show a lack of knowledge about the real meaning of the democratic system and how a democratic society works,” the ministry said.

China’s state-run Global Times had a different take. Li’s words were not a threat, an editorial wrote (link in Chinese) Monday, just a reminder:

The day a US navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day our PLA uses force to unify Taiwan, this is a stern warning from the mainland…

How is this threatening Taiwan? It clearly is sounding of the alarm as Taiwanese authorities go too far in their salami-slicing style of veiled Taiwan independence efforts.

After years of improving ties between Taiwan and Beijing under former president Ma Ying-jeou, the relationship has deteriorated since Taiwan’s current president Tsai Ing-wen took office. Though she has publicly expressed support for maintaining the status quo, Tsai’s political party has traditionally held the position that Taiwan is already an independent state, making a formal declaration of independence unnecessary.

Li’s warning, which he reportedly said he relayed to US officials, came after a US Senate committee approved an unbinding bill calling for the resumption of port visits to Taiwan.