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Taiwan Vows to Hold Referendum on China Despite Diplomatic Pressure

Taiwan officials have vowed to press on with plans for a March referendum on its relationship with China despite public opposition to the move from France. Taiwan is accusing China of pressuring other major powers on the issue.

The Taiwanese government said Tuesday that it "deeply regrets" criticism from French President Jacques Chirac on Taiwan's plans to hold a public vote on how it deals with China.

The referendum, which is scheduled to coincide with presidential elections in March, will ask if Taiwan should boost its missile defenses if China does not stop pointing hundreds of missiles at the island from across the Taiwan Strait.

China has protested sharply against the move, calling it a guise for seeking outright independence for Taiwan.

The United States has already cautioned Taiwan not to do anything that will upset the status quo in the region.

On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac weighed in calling the referendum a "grave error" that would be divisive and destabilizing.

Mr. Chirac made the comments as Chinese President Hu Jintao began a three-day state visit to France. Mr. Hu, in turn, expressed his thanks to the French leader for his support.

Though ruled separately since 1949, Communist China claims sovereignty over democratic Taiwan and wants reunification - by force if necessary. Most nations do not recognize Taiwan as a separate country but treat the island as an independent entity.

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Shih says China is pressuring other nations to express opposition to the referendum.

France once supplied arms to Taiwan, but it has not done so for about 10 years. Chinese President Hu's visit to France is expected to initiate a closer relationship in both trade and foreign relations.