Beijing on Wednesday warned that attempts by Taiwan to resist unification with the mainland would be in vain, as the PLA's aircraft carrier conducted drills off the coast of the self-ruled island.
Beijing is facing a host of threats to its status quo as the independence-leaning leadership of Taiwan grows more vocal, protesters in Hong Kong call for complete separation from the mainland, and an incoming Donald Trump presidency in the U.S. threatens to take a more hardline stance in its ties with the world's second-largest economy.
"A small group of pro-independence forces in Taiwan are colluding with Hong Kong independence advocates to divide the nation," An Fengshan, spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office at the State Council, said.
"Their attempts will not succeed," An told a press briefing. "They will end up with their heads broken and bleeding."
Taiwan is the "most sensitive and complicated issue in China-U.S. relations", An said, adding that Beijing's position on territorial integrity was unswerving, and the US should deal with Taiwan issues cautiously.
The PLA's Liaoning aircraft carrier this week sailed 90 nautical miles south of the island in an exercise described by Beijing as routine, but which came after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen spoke by phone with Donald Trump, who questioned whether the U.S. should continue to respect the one-China policy.
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The carrier was due to arrive at a naval base in Hainan province yesterday, Taiwan's defence ministry said. Taiwanese Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan said the island was facing a growing "threat" from enemies and should remain on alert.
Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations and executive director of the China Centre for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea at Nanjing University, said the mainland, Taiwan and the U.S. were seeing how far they could test cross-strait issues.
"I think the latest developments give the Tsai Ing-wen administration a warning that a deterioration in Sino-U.S. relations is not going to benefit Taiwan and that she should really think about changing her own attitudes towards the mainland."
The U.S. and other regional powers are watching the military drill. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed while visiting Pearl Harbor to closely monitor the movements of the Liaoning "from a mid-term and long-term perspective", Kyodo reported.
Veerle Nouwens, research analyst for Asia Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the drill could be aimed at conveying the apparent regional operational capabilities of the PLA Navy. "China wants to demonstrate that it has the maritime capabilities that the US traditionally held in the region and is not only intent on having them, but that it knows how to use them," Nouwens said.