China's veiled threat to the US over Taiwan: 'They will perish'

China's president Xi Jinping has issued a veiled threat to US President Joe Biden, telling him "those who play with fire will perish by it".

In a rare telephone conversation between the two leaders, Taiwan was the most contentious issue discussed, with both men standing firm on their positions.

Mr Biden warned his Chinese counterpart that any move to alter Taiwan's current status would not be welcomed.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that Mr Biden said the White House's Taiwan position had not changed – supporting the status quo which sees the democratic island of 23 million people afforded their own political autonomy.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2021.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A virtual meeting between the two leaders last year. Source: Reuters

However Mr Xi warned Washington to be "clear-eyed" about the Taiwan issue.

"The will of the people cannot be defied and those who play with fire will perish by it," he reportedly said during the call.

Mr Xi said "deficits in development and security are looming large" and it was the responsibility of the US and China to ensure global peace.

It comes as tensions continue to rise over the island state, with concerns growing Beijing will try and forcibly "reunify" Taiwan with the mainland.

Days earlier Taiwan flexed its military muscle in an annual display attended by its President Tsai Ing-wen.

Beijing warned Taipei any military "confrontation" will be "doomed to fail".

China a country of their word, spokesperson warns

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rumoured trip to Taiwan again triggered stern language from China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian for the second consecutive day on Thursday.

"If the US side insists on making the visit, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and will certainly take strong and resolute measures to thwart any interference by external forces and secessionist attempts for 'Taiwan independence'," he said, relaying the Ministry of Defence's message.

"We Chinese mean what we say."

Mr Zhao this week warned a Reuters journalist to stop calling Ms Tsai 'president', a move which Wen-Ti Sung, sessional lecturer in Taiwan Studies at the Australian National University, believes could be a concerted effort to deter other countries from relations with Taiwan.

"It is possible to conjecture that China's foreign ministry is making a more direct rebuff of it now as a way to posture and deter what it sees as growing international interests in, and interactions with, Taiwan," he told Yahoo News Australia.

China's vast grasp and claim to surrounding territory means the navigation of a US aircraft carrier this week in the South China Sea will have Beijing closely watching its next move.

Mr Biden and Mr Xi's call lasted for more than two hours, with the Ukraine, the global economy and global health also discussed.

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