China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday said a war with the United States would be disastrous for both the countries as well as the world even as he criticised America for allegedly meddling in Beijing’s internal affairs, Reuters reported.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Wei said China will “fight to the end” if anyone tried to split China from Taiwan. The statement came amid reports that United States President Donald Trump’s government plans to increase support for Taiwan.

The island nation of Taiwan governs itself democratically, but China considers it an integral part of its territory and opposes any diplomatic relations as well as political contacts with Taipei by countries which have diplomatic relations with it. Currently, only about 20 countries have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The United States does not have formal ties with Taiwan, but is the sole supplier of arms to the country.

China has never provoked a war or conflict, taken land or invaded another country,” Wei said, according to CNN. He is the highest-ranking Chinese official to attend the summit, considered Asia’s premier defence summit, in eight years. “China has never preyed on others. We shall not let others prey on or divide us either.”

“If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs,” he added. “The US is indivisible, and so is China. China must be, and will be, reunified.”

“China will not attack unless we are attacked,” Wei added, cautioning that there would be dire consequences to any clash between the two countries. “The two sides realise that conflict, or a war between them, would bring disaster to both countries and the world.”

Wei’s comments came a day after US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan had said that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behaviour in Asia.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have been high for several months now, especially after a bitter trade war. On May 30, China had called the US’ deliberate provocations of trade disputes “naked economic terrorism”.

South China Sea

Wei also criticised the United State’s naval operations in the disputed South China Sea. “Some countries from outside the region come to the South China Sea to flex muscles in the name of freedom of navigation,” Wei said, in reference to America.

“Who is threatening security and stability in the South China Sea?” he asked, adding that countries who “flex muscles” would then “walk away and leave a mess behind,” according to CNN.

Several countries – China, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei – have been fighting over the resource-rich South China Sea for years. China has claimed nearly 90% of the territory, which is defined by the nine-dash line, and has also issued a map to back its claims.

In July 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines and said Beijing has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” over South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration accused China of breaching the sovereign rights of the Philippines by exploring resources near the Reed Bank. However, the Chinese government called the verdict “ill-founded”. Beijing also said that its “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” in the seas would not be affected by the verdict.

The US has accused Beijing of militarising the South China Sea by placing military installations on artificial islands and reefs.