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China Thanks US for Opposing Taiwan Referendum Plans - 2003-12-11

China is thanking President Bush for his support in opposing Taiwan's plans to hold a March referendum that could open the possibility of independence.

China expressed thanks to President Bush for warning Taiwan to maintain the status quo in relations with Beijing. The comments were made as Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao wrapped up his first visit to Washington, where Taiwan figured prominently in discussions.

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian sparked controversy when he announced he would use new referendum laws to hold a public vote calling for China to remove missiles aimed at Taiwan and end threats to use military force to unite democratic Taiwan with the communist mainland. Mr. Chen has repeatedly argued that the referendum is not about independence, but reducing potential conflict.

But at a news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao disputed that, saying the referendum is "deceptive and dangerous."

Mr. Liu says the aim of the referendum is to separate Taiwan from the mainland.

President Bush this week, in uncharacteristic criticism of Taiwan, seemed to share China's view that the referendum would be destabilizing.

Mr. Chen appealed to Washington to change that view, saying a referendum is in keeping with American democratic principles. He argued that Taiwan has a right to be free from terror, a reference to Chinese missiles aimed at the island.

China and Taiwan split after a civil war in 1949 and have been ruled separately. The United States sides with Beijing on the so-called One-China principle with the aim of an eventual peaceful reunification. At the same time, Washington has pledged to help defend Taiwan should it be attacked by China.