China's President Xi Jinping ratcheted up tensions over Taiwan Tuesday (March 20) with a speech to the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing that warned that any scheme to "split" China would be "punished by history."

Xi's comments came as part of a speech that underlined the Communist Party leader's grip on power following his successful bid to change the country's constitution and abolish term limits on the offices of president, potentially paving the way for him to rule for life.

“All acts and schemes to split China are doomed to failure and will be condemned by the people and punished by history,” Xi said in an address to the NPC's closing session, adding that the Chinese people have the will, confidence and ability to defeat attempts to split the country.

The comments closely followed a series of rebukes from Chinese officials after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA) on Friday, which details provisions for Taiwan and the U.S. to conduct Cabinet-level diplomatic exchanges on each other's soil.

China's embassy in Washington reacted to the signing of the Act by saying that it was "strongly dissatisfied" and warned that it would hurt bilateral relations at a time when Trump is attempting to push Beijing on trade via the imposition of tariffs designed to punish China for theft of U.S. intellectual property. China's foreign ministry up by saying that the law violates the "one China" principle, while urging the U.S. to cease escalating its ties with Taiwan.

Analysts have said the TTA, which constitutes a non-binding agreement, is largely symbolic as the U.S. already has the capability to conduct such visits, most notably in the case of former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) visit to Cornell University, his alma mater, in 1995, which precipitated the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.

In a response to emailed questions, Richard C. Bush, Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at The Brookings Institution, a Washington DC-based think tank, said that though China occasionally acknowledges the TTA's non-binding status, "it is whipping up a whirlwind, probably to scare the U.S. off from improving relations with Taiwan. The impact will probably be the opposite."

"The unfortunate result may be that even though this legislation was initiated in the United States by Americans, Beijing will inflict the punishment on Taiwan," he added.

Peng Sheng-chu (彭勝竹), head of Taiwan's National Security Bureau, said March 19 that Xi's consolidation of power would likely see negative impacts for Taiwan, including further measures to entice talent across the Strait, as well as more frequent military drills close to Taiwan and redoubled efforts to poach Taiwan's remaining diplomatic allies.

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Editor: Morley J Wesotn