Sun Ping, an official from China’s Ministry of Public Security, told reporters in Beijing the maximum penalty for the “crime of secession” was the death penalty.

“The sharp sword of legal action will always hang high,” she said.

There was no immediate response from Taiwan’s government. One official told Reuters they were still digesting the contents of the new guidelines.

The guidelines detail what is considered a crime worthy of punishment, including promoting Taiwan’s entry to international organisations where statehood is a condition, having “external official exchanges” and “suppressing” parties, groups and people that promote “reunification”.

The guidelines add a further clause to what could be considered a crime – “other acts that seek to separate Taiwan from China” – meaning the rules can be broadly interpreted.

Lai has repeatedly offered to hold talks with China but has been rebuffed. He says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.

China has taken legal measures against Taiwanese officials before, including imposing sanctions on Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s former de facto ambassador to the United States and now the island’s vice president.

Such punishments have little practical effect as Chinese courts do not have jurisdiction in Taiwan, whose government rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims.

Senior Taiwanese officials, including its president, also do not visit China.

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