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Taiwan President Urges Unity at Rally with Predecessor - 2002-08-11

Taiwan's president is calling for unity in the face of threats from China over the issue of independence. Chen Shiu-bian made the call Sunday at a rally with his predecessor, Lee Tung-hui, whom China also considers a dangerous separatist. The rally comes a week after Mr. Chen said Taiwan should hold a referendum on formal independence from the mainland.

In Taiwan, where images and innuendo often carry more weight than words in political discourse, President Chen Shui-bian has appeared at a political rally with his controversial predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, barely a week after himself making controversial remarks on Taiwan's status with respect to China.

Both men have angered Beijing by stating explicitly that Taiwan and China are separate countries. During his presidency, Mr. Lee argued Taiwan and China should have a "special state-to-state" relationship. Last week, President Chen also referred to the relationship as "one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait." He went further and backed legislation to hold a vote on declaring formal independence.

Sunday, Mr. Chen refrained from repeating his controversial comments of last week but he still sounded a defiant note addressing Mr. Lee's year-old pro-independence political party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union.

He called for Taiwan's political parties to put difference aside, unite and not be intimidated by Chinese threats.

China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, and has warned that it may take military action against the island if the Taiwan government declares independence.

Beijing has refused to resume the cross-strait dialog frozen during Mr. Lee's presidency until President Chen explicitly accepts Beijing's claim that Taiwan is a part of China.

The Chen administration has steadfastly refused to do so. Until late July of this year, it had kept its public pronouncements on cross-strait ties low key.

But now President Chen has taken over the chairmanship of his Democratic Progressive Party, which lacks a majority in the legislature to approve holding an independence referendum. He must gain the support of Mr. Lee's Taiwan Solidarity Union as well as virtually all independent legislators to pass such a bill.