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China Rejects Taipei's Efforts to Defuse Tensions - 2002-08-07

China rejects Taipei's efforts to defuse tensions after Taiwan president made comments about the island's political status. China's military says it may have to use force against Taiwan if the island carries out a referendum on possible independence from the mainland.

Chinese state media continue to release a stream of invective against Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian. The state-owned China Daily newspaper Wednesday quotes a senior military officer as warning of a growing possibility that peace between Taiwan and the mainland will have to be safeguarded and won through the use of force.

The comment from the unnamed People's Liberation Army official is the first time China's military has spoken out since President Chen made his controversial speech on Saturday. In the speech, he called China and Taiwan separate countries.

The People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, also ran a front-page editorial accusing Mr. Chen of trying to divide Taiwan from China and push the island toward war. The editorial says that if a minority on Taiwan impose "separatist plots" on the Chinese people, China will not sit back and watch.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chen tried to soften his stance. He said his remarks had been oversimplified and what he meant was that China and Taiwan are sovereign and equal. However, Chinese media reject Mr. Chen's attempt at damage control. Despite Beijing's angry rhetoric, many China watchers think the government is too focused on a looming leadership transition to take military action against Taiwan.

Robert Karniol, Asia editor of Jane's Defense Weekly in Bangkok, says the People's Liberation Army may make more of a show of force following China's political transition later this year. "The expectation is the PLA as an organization will gain influence over the second half of the current five-year plan, which goes through 2005," he says. "That influence should extend both to things like procurement of equipment and to foreign policy."

Mr. Karniol says the main foreign policy interest of the PLA is Taiwan. He says it is too early to tell how the military will influence Beijing's policy toward Taipei. But the People's Liberation Army has traditionally been more hard-line than other branches of the government.

In response to the growing rhetoric from Beijing, Taipei Wednesday canceled planned war games off the eastern side of the island. A Taiwanese Defense Ministry official says the situation in the Taiwan Strait is tense, and anti-submarine drills were scrapped to avoid a misunderstanding with China.