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China confirmed it’s compiling a global watch list of Taiwanese independence backers it plans to “punish," marking an escalation in Beijing’s pursuit of its critics.

“The list is only targeting the extremely few stubborn Taiwan independence activists and their funders, not targeting the majority of Taiwan compatriots," Zhu Fenglian, a spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a briefing on Wednesday. She didn’t provide details on the size of the list or specific names of people identified.

The targets include “those who make arrogant remarks and conduct malicious actions to seek independence, and the leaders who organize, plan, and implement secession activities both inside and outside the Taiwan island, as well as their main funders and supporters."

Reports of the move earlier this month sparked worries among Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists. Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed newspaper Ta Kung Pao had reported that China was collecting the names of prominent advocates of Taiwanese independence, and that the watch list could include activists on the democratic island and abroad as well as those who helped fund such activities.

Taiwan, Hong Kong activists alarmed over China watch list

A list of Taiwanese people who support independence could theoretically include millions of names -- government surveys show about one-quarter of the island’s roughly 23 million inhabitants back a legal separation at some point.

Earlier this month, Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang was named as one prominent example in an editorial published by China’s state-backed Global Times. Su has said he would “guard the country and protect people without giving in to military force."

“Su, as a premier, said things he should say," Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen told a media briefing on Wednesday. “China’s comments are not good, and it’s not beneficial for cross-strait ties."

Beijing has in recent months boosted pressure on Tsai of the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, with China’s air force making regular incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, or ADIZ. Beijing cut off direct communications across the Taiwan Strait during her first four years in office, citing Tsai’s refusal to accept the idea that both sides belong to “one China."

China’s Communist Party views Taiwan as part of its territory despite never controlling it.

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