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China: Taiwan's Leader Gambling with Island's Stability - 2003-12-17

China says it will make preparations to crush any attempts by Taiwan to move toward independence. Officials accused the Taiwan leader of gambling with the island's stability. The remarks were a sign of Beijing's growing anger and anxiety over what China interprets as attempts by the Taiwanese leadership to move toward formal independence.

Although Taiwan has been governed separately since 1949, China considers the island part of its territory. Beijing has threatened to use force if the island moves toward declaring itself a sovereign state.

China on Wednesday issued the latest in a series of bellicose statements against Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, whose re-election campaign has focused largely on the issue of the island's sovereignty.

Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Li Weiyi chided Mr. Chen for pushing the independence issue. Mr. Li says Mr. Chen's selfish effort to get re-elected gambles with the interests of the Taiwanese. He says that is immoral.

President Chen has angered China by planning a referendum on whether to demand that China stop pointing missiles at the island. The referendum is scheduled for March 20, the same day as the presidential election.

In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, Mr. Chen warned that China's threats to attack are pushing Taiwan toward independence. He said he would abandon an earlier promise not to declare independence if China resorts to using force. The Taiwanese leader told the newspaper that if China does a missile test, he would consider it an attack.

China on Wednesday said it must make what it described as necessary preparations to crush any independence moves.

However, the mainland government also urged Taiwan to move more quickly on opening direct transportation and communication links across the Taiwan Strait. The Nationalist Chinese who fled to Taiwan in 1949 when the Communists took over China severed all direct transportation links and they have never been restored.