Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Bilateral relations between China and Taiwan have worsened since Tsai took office in 2016
China would unleash “terrible consequences” should it attack Taiwan, Taiwan’s president has said, in a sign that tensions between the two sides remain unchanged after a recent phone call.
Tsai Ing-wen said the United States would “make a real difference” by stepping up its role.
The White House quickly denied that President Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of an attack.
China said it still “rejected” the phone call.
It has insisted that any change in cross-strait relations must come through negotiations with Taiwan.
During the call on Friday, Mr Trump told Taiwanese President Tsai that he hoped “it would not be necessary for the United States to be attacked” to ensure that relations with China were “stable and beneficial”, according to a White House readout.
China has called on the US to stick to its commitments to not intervene in Taiwan affairs and has said it won’t agree to talks on this issue until the issue of “Taiwan independence” is resolved.
It also said in a statement that the warning came “entirely out of the blue”.
‘Understand full well’
In a speech in New York on Thursday, Ms Tsai appeared to play down the warning.
“What the United States stands for is a strong Taiwan,” she said.
“Regardless of the political temperature, should China or another country attack us, I don’t think they could touch Taiwan as China would definitely lose.
“They cannot even point to the ground as they will be met with terrible consequences in terms of retaliation.”
Earlier this week, US politicians criticised Mr Trump for making the call, saying he had “betrayed Taiwan”.
But after the phone call was reported in China, the country announced tighter financial sanctions against several officials who allegedly had ties to Chen Shui-bian, a former Taiwanese leader who backed independence from China.
‘Understand full well’
President Tsai, whose pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party took power in 2016, said: “The United States is our most important and strongest ally, and we look forward to strengthening relations with it in the future.”
Washington does not formally recognise Taiwan as an independent country, and for years maintained unofficial ties with it.
Tensions between the sides have increased since Ms Tsai took office in 2016. China deems the island part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
Last year, Beijing fired thousands of missiles towards the island in a show of force.
In its joint statement, China said Taiwan’s government would be “fully and officially aware of the seriousness of the situation”.
It noted the “relevant statements” were “deeply regrettable”, adding that it had dismissed earlier explanations as “self-serving” and “unacceptable”.
China’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website that the US move could only happen in an “armed conflict”.
Mr Trump has been criticised by critics for not attending the Taiwan government’s 50th anniversary celebrations this month.