China is stepping up the pressure on Taiwan's president, accusing him of sparking a serious crisis in cross-strait relations. The new push from Beijing comes after the Taiwanese leader backed a referendum on possible independence for the island.

China's state-controlled media are turning up their anti-Taiwan volume. Newspapers Tuesday filled their front pages with quotes from scholars denouncing Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's remarks as dangerous and irresponsible.

The People's Daily, China's official Communist Party newspaper, quotes a senior official from Macao as saying Mr. Chen is gambling with the happiness of more than 20 million Taiwanese people and trying to force them onto a road of anguish.

The state-run China Daily devotes most of its front page to comments from mainland experts on Taiwan, warning that what they call Mr. Chen's provocative moves could push China and Taiwan to an explosive crisis.

Yan Xuetong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at Qinghua University, says Mr. Chen's speech Saturday clearly damages relations between Beijing and Taipei. He says the remarks will lead to greater political estrangement across the Taiwan Strait, increase tension and dampen mainland hopes for peaceful reunification with the island.

President Chen unleashed the new war of words during a televised speech to pro-independence activists in Tokyo. Mr. Chen said Taiwan is effectively a separate country from communist China, and the Taiwanese people should be free to hold a referendum on possible independence from the mainland.

Late Tuesday, Mr. Chen said his remarks had been misunderstood and over-interpreted. He said Taiwan is a sovereign country and is equal with China.

But Fan Xizhou, a mainland expert on Taiwan at Xiamen University in Fujian Province, says Mr. Chen needs to do much more to repair the damage he has done.

Mr. Fan says President Chen's latest comment shows that he wants to reduce tension across the Taiwan Strait. But he says the Taiwanese leader still calls the island a sovereign country, and does not essentially change the meaning of his speech over the weekend. Mr. Fan says Taipei must clarify its policy toward the mainland to preserve stability across the Taiwan Strait.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Taiwan's military told reporters in Taipei that China is holding war games across from the island. But the spokesman says the military exercises are routine, and Taipei has not noticed anything unusual.

China regularly holds military drills between May and October in its southeastern provinces near Taiwan.

Beijing says it reserves the right to attack Taiwan if the island declares formal independence or drags its feet on unification talks. But mainland experts say Mr. Chen's latest comments are unlikely to spark immediate military action by China.

China and Taiwan have had separate governments since 1949, when Nationalists fled the mainland after their defeat in China's civil war.