China is stepping up its rhetoric against Taiwan, accusing the island's government of moving further toward independence.

Angry statements appeared in government-run newspapers. The papers carried remarks by a spokesman from the Chinese cabinet's Taiwan Affairs office, in which the Chinese government accused Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian of stepping up efforts to promote independence.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened to invade the island if it formally declares independence.

The latest barrage of rhetoric was touched off by the Taiwanese president's recent visit to the United States, which China protested.

Taiwanese officials responded with a statement warning China that its criticism of the U.S. trip was "mistaken behavior" that is "hurting the Taiwanese people's feelings."

The exchange continued, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted to a recent decision by the Pacific nation of Kiribati, which has announced it is establishing diplomatic ties with Taipei.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao lashed out at Taiwan's decision to accept ties with Kiribati. Mr. Liu alluded to China's longstanding contention that Taiwan rewards poor nations that give it diplomatic recognition with economic aid.

"The Taiwan authority has been engaging in 'dollar diplomacy' in the international stage, in any [way] achieving their separatist aims," said Liu Jianchao. "These activities damage the fundamental interests of all people of China, including Taiwan."

Observers say the statements have been the harshest in several months, and they say the exchange is likely to intensify as Taiwan edges closer to presidential elections in March.

The subject of independence is an important but difficult issue in Mr. Chen's reelection campaign. He has proposed rewriting Taiwan's constitution within three years, which some analysts interpret as a move toward independence from China.

The Taiwanese leader has further angered Beijing by voicing support for a referendum on independence.