SINGAPORE - China will “fight to the very end” to stop Taiwanese independence, the country’s defence minister vowed Sunday, stoking already soaring tensions with the United States over the island.

The superpowers are locked in a growing war of words over the self-ruled, democratic island, which Beijing views as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

Frequent Chinese aerial incursions near Taiwan have raised the diplomatic temperature, and on Saturday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accused Beijing of “destabilising” military activity in a speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit.

Defence Minister Wei Fenghe hit back in a fiery address at the same event, saying Beijing had “no choice” but to fight if attempts are made to separate Taiwan` from China. “We will fight at all cost, and we will fight to the very end,” he said.

“No one should ever underestimate the resolve and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity.”

“Those who pursue Taiwanese independence in an attempt to split China will definitely come to no good end,” he added.

Wei urged Washington to “stop smearing and containing China... stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop harming China’s interests”. But he also struck a more conciliatory tone at points, calling for a “stable” China-US relationship, which he said was “vital for global peace”.

During his address, Austin stressed the importance of “fully open lines of communication with China’s defence leaders” in avoiding miscalculations.