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China Critical of Taiwan's Leader - 2004-05-24


China has broken its silence following last week's inaugural speech by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian. Chinese officials on Monday accused him of lacking sincerity in efforts to improve relations. China's remarks came five days after Chen Shui-bian began his second term with a speech in which he pledged to work to improve relations between Beijing and Taipei.

Analysts said Mr. Chen sounded a conciliatory note by saying he would work toward reestablishing dialogue with China.

However, Beijing does not see the speech in the same light. Zhang Mingqing, a spokesman for the Chinese cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, on Monday accused Mr. Chen of being insincere.

Mr. Zhang says Mr. Chen's speech implies he has not given up the intention of moving toward independence. The spokesman went on to say that if Mr. Chen were sincere, he would recognize that Taiwan and the mainland are part of the same country.

The island has been self-governed since 1949, when the Nationalist government and its supporters fled across the Taiwan Strait following the Communists' takeover of the mainland. Beijing has always threatened to attack Taiwan if it moves toward independence or is slow to seek reunification.

Chen Shui-bian angered China during his first term by pushing for a new constitution and taking other measures that Beijing interpreted as moves toward independence. Mr. Chen's party has advocated independence, but the Taiwanese leader has distanced himself from that position recently, choosing instead to call for dialogue on strengthening relations with the mainland.

Analysts say Beijing's belligerent language indicates it has decided to make no change in its policy toward Chen Shui-bian regardless of what he had to say in his speech. Professor I-Chung Lai is with the Taiwan ThinkTank in Taipei. He says China will probably continue to make similar statements until after the U.S. presidential elections and Taiwan's legislative polls later this year.

"They probably would like to wait until the result of the elections have been crystal clear, after the end of this year, to decide if there are any changes to the dynamics," he said.

The United States also paid close attention to Mr. Chen's inauguration speech last week. Washington, Taiwan's ally and chief weapons supplier, has been anxious to avert a cross-straits confrontation and has warned both sides to avoid taking unilateral steps to change the island's current status.

The White House has called Mr. Chen's speech responsible and constructive. Washington urged both sides to seek creative means to build trust and goodwill.

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