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China-Taiwan Rivalry Surfaces At APEC Conference - 2001-10-19

Officials from Taiwan say they will boycott Saturday's summit meeting of Asia and Pacific leaders in Shanghai because of what they call "irrational" and "rude" behavior by the host, China. Taiwan officials say the bickering over who heads the island's delegation hurts economic relations across the Taiwan strait.

Taiwan's government had planned to send presidential adviser, Li Yuan-zu, to represent it at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, but Beijing blocked that move. Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian proposed sending Mr. Li, a former vice president, after China rejected several requests for Mr. Chen to attend.

Delegates from Taiwan say China violated diplomatic practice and common courtesy by not extending an invitation to Mr. Li. Economic Minister Lin Hsing-I said the diplomatic slap violated Taiwan's rights and did great harm to the APEC forum. "We deeply regret the fact that mainland China has failed to fulfill its obligations as host member economy for this year's APEC meeting," he said. "Therefore we would like to register our unequivocal protest."

Beijing says Taiwan is part of China and has no business conducting its own foreign or military affairs. The two sides split in 1949 after a civil war. Beijing rejected Mr. Li, saying the island should stick with usual practice and send a representative with economic responsibilities.

Both China and Taiwan joined APEC a decade ago, but China has managed to keep Taiwanese presidents from attending the annual meetings of the leaders of all other members.

At China's insistence, APEC protocol made Taiwan's president send a stand-in to the forum. This time, Taiwan proposed Mr. Li, an expert on criminal law, whom officials said could deal with the issue of terrorism, which is high on the agenda here.

The controversy broke out as President Bush met Friday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The United States recognizes Beijing as the ruler of China, and urges the two sides to work out their differences peacefully. Washington has pledged to help defend Taiwan if Beijing tries to take the island by force. Beijing considers the Taiwan issue critical and it has been a constant problem in relations between China and the United States.