China on Friday told the United States that it will not hesitate to start a war if Taiwan declares independence, AFP reported.

“If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese Army will definitely not hesitate to start a war, no matter the cost,” a country’s defence ministry spokesperson quoted Defence Minister Wei Fenghe as saying.

Wei had made the remarks during a meeting with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Friday during a defense summit in Singapore. This was their first face-to-face meeting, according to AFP.

Beijing sees Taiwan, which is a self-governed territory, as a province that is to be unified with the Chinese mainland. On the other hand, the US is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier, even though the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.

In December too, China had warned that it would take “drastic measures” if Taiwan attempted to attain formal independence. This came a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned his US counterpart Joe Biden that encouraging the independence of Taiwan would be like “playing with fire”.

At Friday’s meeting, the Chinese defence minister also said that Beijing would destroy any plot related to Taiwan’s independence, according to Al Jazeera.

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] would have no choice but to fight … and crush any attempt of Taiwan independence, safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the minister said.

Austin told his Chinese counterpart that Beijing must “refrain from further destabilising actions towards Taiwan”, according to the US Department of Defense.

“The secretary [Austin] reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the [Taiwan] strait, opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo, and called on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan,” the department said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign ministry denounced China’s claims as “absurd” and thanked the US for the show of support, The Guardian reported.

“Taiwan has never been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said. “The people of Taiwan will not succumb to threats of force from the Chinese government.”