Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on Sunday that any attempt to divide China would be crushed, as four months of anti-government protests continue in Hong Kong and the United States ramps up criticism over Beijing’s treatment of Muslim-minority groups.
“Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” he said during a visit to Nepal on Sunday, according to China’s state broadcaster CGTN.
“Any external forces backing such attempts dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming,” he was quoted as saying, without mentioning a specific adversary.
The Chinese leader did not mention any region by name, but riot police and pro-democracy protesters clashed again in Hong Kong over the weekend.
Rallies erupted in multiple neighbourhoods across the city on Sunday, with some protesters blocking roads, sabotaging train tracks, and attacking businesses suspected of being pro-China.
China has accused “external forces” of fuelling unrest in the semi-autonomous city, a former British colony that enjoys rights unheard of in the mainland, including freedom of speech.
The protests were sparked by opposition to a now-scrapped proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, but have since morphed into a larger movement for democracy and police accountability.
Xi Jinping was the first Chinese president to visit Nepal in more than two decades.[Prakash Mathema/Pool via Reuters]
As Hong Kong’s administration struggles to contain the demonstrations, China is also attempting to de-escalate a protracted trade war with the US.
US president Donald Trump had said it would be difficult to negotiate with China if anything “bad” happens in Chinese authorities’ handling of the Hong Kong protests.
Trump said he discussed the issue of Hong Kong with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on Saturday during their latest round of talks. Both sides reached a “phase-one deal” that has raised optimism for a broader agreement although many fundamental issues remained unresolved and existing tariffs are still not lifted.
Washington last week also blacklisted 28 Chinese companies over Beijing’s treatment of predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.
China has faced growing international condemnation over the existence of what it calls re-education and training centres in the remote western region of Xinjiang.
Activists say they are mass detention camps holding more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims.
Nepal is home to an estimated 20,000 Tibetans.
Before travelling to Nepal, Xi was in India for talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid scattered anti-China protests from Tibetan groups.
China sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 and has ruled ever since.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
The authorities in Beijing have branded the Dalai Lama a dangerous reactionary who seeks to split off nearly a quarter of the Chinese land mass.
Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli (second left) and China’s President Xi Jinping (centre) shake hands at the end of Xi’s two-day visit to Nepal. [Prakash Mathema/EPA]
Al Jazeera and news agencies