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China Warns Taiwan Against Any Move Toward Independence - 2004-05-17


China is warning Taiwan it will crush any move toward independence thoroughly and at any cost. The warning comes as Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian prepares to deliver his inaugural speech this week.

Beijing officials will be listening carefully to Chen Shui-bian's inaugural speech on Thursday for any hint the re-elected leader might give about pushing the island toward formal independence.

China considers Taiwan a part of its territory and has always vowed to retake it by force if necessary. The island has been self-governed since 1949, when the Nationalists fled there following the Communist takeover of the mainland.

In a statement, Chinese officials repeated earlier threats that they would not hesitate to crush any steps toward independence at the island "thoroughly at any cost." The Chinese statement gave Taiwan a chance to restart negotiations on easing tensions and strengthening ties if Taipei accepts the so-called one-China principle.

Analysts say the statement was meant to warn President Chen. The Taiwanese leader has been testing Beijing's patience by calling for a new constitution by 2008, which China regards as a step toward formal independence and one that that has raised the possibility of cross-straits war.

President Chen, whose base of support lies among pro-independence voters, is expected to use his speech to outline his plan for a new constitution and other measures. International relations professor Chen-yuan Tung at National Taiwan University says at this point, domestic political pressure may prevent Mr. Chen from altering his speech.

"President Chen might not respond to the Chinese government by accepting the one-China principle because Taiwan's public opinion would not accept this as a precondition for return to cultural dialogue," he explained.

Analysts say China likely understands that Taiwan will not accept the principle of reunification for now, but hopes to minimize the risk of war by pressuring the Chen government to avoid taking further steps toward independence.

Beijing hopes more stable relations will help restart dialogue on issues such as trade and direct air links to Taiwan, which the island's government does not currently allow.

The United States has agreed to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack and has been working to ease cross-straits tensions. President Bush has called on both sides to avoid taking unilateral steps that would change the island's status. U.S. officials say they will also be paying close attention to Mr. Chen's inaugural speech.

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