China will defend its claim to Taiwan "at any cost," should the United States try to intervene in the island’s independence, a senior Chinese military official reportedly told a U.S. Admiral during a Sunday meeting in Beijing.
General Li Zuocheng, a member of the Central Military Commission, told Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson: "If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will defend the unity of the motherland at any cost."
China regards Taiwan as part of its own territory despite splitting off from the mainland after a 1949 civil war. Despite operating with its own flag and currency, Taiwan is not recognized by the United Nations. The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979 to recognize an ascendant Beijing but remains an unofficial ally and its biggest arms supplier.
The South China Sea remains a contentious area, with multiple countries claiming rights over its waters. China views U.S. Navy ships, which have passed through the Taiwan Strait in recent months, as an attack on its sovereignty, according to an AFP report.
Should Taiwan decide to declare independence or a foreign country intervenes, China will not hesitate to use force, Li told Richardson during their meeting, according to the report. Amid increasing tensions with Beijing, the Pentagon on Tuesday released a new report that lays out U.S. concerns about China's growing military might, underscoring worries about a possible attack against Taiwan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.