BEIJING/TAIPEI • China yesterday warned Taiwan that it would "reap the consequences" of promoting formal independence, a red line for Beijing which claims the island as its own.
However, Taiwan's government said it was a reality that the Republic of China (ROC) - the island's formal name - was a sovereign country, and that no matter what China said, it could not change this fact.
Taiwan is one of China's most sensitive issues. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring what it considers a wayward province under its rule.
Defeated Kuomintang forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of a Chinese civil war.
On Tuesday, new Taiwan Premier William Lai, delivering his first administrative report to Parliament, said: "I am a political worker who advocates Taiwan independence, but I am also a pragmatic pro-Taiwan independence theorist."
He is the first Taiwanese premier to openly acknowledge his pro-independence status, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong said.
He noted that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are "independent of each other, with Taiwan being an independent sovereign state carrying the designation the Republic of China".
Asked if his pro-independence stance contradicted a position he once described as being "pro-China, loving Taiwan", Mr Lai said there was no contradiction, adding: "Pro-China, loving Taiwan means showing goodwill and reaching out to China in a friendly manner, while keeping Taiwan at the centre."
Mr Lai also said it is most important to strengthen Taiwan and to continue exchanges with "China, the Beijing authorities".
"We are willing to make friends with them," the South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.
Mr Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said yesterday in reaction that cross-strait ties are not "country to country relations and there is no 'one China and one Taiwan'".
"Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory, has never been a country and can never become a country," Mr Ma said.
"The mainland side resolutely opposes any form of 'Taiwan independence' words or action, and will never allow the historical tragedy of national separation to repeat itself. The consequences will be reaped for engaging in Taiwan independence separatism," he warned.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said it did not matter what Beijing said - it was an "objective reality" that the ROC was a sovereign state.
"Taiwan's future and the development of relations across the strait will be jointly decided by Taiwan's 23 million people," it said.
Taiwanese officials have previously said there is no need to declare independence as Taiwan is already independent.
Relations between Taipei and Beijing have nosedived since Ms Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential election last year.