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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Taiwan head backs independence poll
Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen is frustrated by the lack of progress with China
Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has backed calls for a referendum on independence, in a move almost certain to anger China.

Taiwan is not someone else's province

Chen Shui-bian

In a video broadcast on Saturday to Taiwanese living in Japan, Mr Chen referred to Taiwan and China as two countries, echoing comments made by his predecessor three years ago that dramatically raised tensions with Beijing.

''Taiwan's future and destiny can only be decided by the 23 million people living on the island," Mr Chen said.

Chinese soldiers on parade
China has threatened to invade if Taiwan declares independence
Taiwan broke with China at the end of a civil war in 1949 and Beijing still views the island as a renegade province.

Holding a referendum was ''a basic human right that cannot be deprived or restricted", Mr Chen told pro-independence activists in Tokyo during the video conference.

The BBC's Beijing correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says that with important elections on the horizon, the president's remarks are in part a rallying call to his party supporters.

'Taiwan stands up'

"I want to sincerely urge and encourage everybody to seriously consider the importance and urgency of passing legislation on a referendum," Mr Chen said.

  • 1949: Chinese Nationalists flee to Taiwan as People's Republic of China declared
  • 1979: China-US diplomatic ties established after Washington switches recognition from Taipei
  • 2000: Chen Shui-bian elected Taiwan president. Beijing threatens to attack if island attempts to secede
  • 2001: Taipei lifts ban on direct trade and investment with China
  • 2002: Taiwan warns China is boosting military spending and losing patience over peaceful reunification

  • He stood up after the speech and pumped his hand into the air repeatedly when the master of ceremonies shouted: "Taiwan stands up" and "Taiwan walks its own path".

    The president gave no timetable, but his remarks contrasted with an earlier pledge not to push for a referendum on independence during his four-year tenure.

    There was no immediate comment from Beijing, which has threatened to attack Taiwan if the island declares independence.

    The BBC Beijing correspondent says Mr Chen's remarks appeared calculated to provoke a reaction from Beijing after the president had tried a softer line for two years and received nothing in return.

    On the question of sovereignty, Mr Chen said: ''Simply put, with Taiwan and China on each side of the (Taiwan) Strait, each side is a country. This needs to be clear.''

    In July 1999, then-President Lee Teng-hui, said Taiwan and China had ''special state-to-state'' relations.

    The move triggered a round of intense sabre-rattling during which Chinese fighter jets flew sorties in the Taiwan Strait.

    Nauru rift

    Mr Chen appears to have hardened his stance after Beijing established diplomatic relations with one of Taiwan's allies, Nauru, on the day he assumed the chairmanship of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last month.

    Mr Chen's new stance could harm the chances of better bilateral ties ahead of China's expected leadership change at a Communist Party congress this year.

    Some analysts believe Mr Chen is using the uncertainty around the change to get closer to US President George W Bush, who has pledged to do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.

    "Tensions between the two sides will mount. [Mr Chen] should not have provoked the mainland," said Liu Bih-rong, a political scientist at Taipei's private Soochow University.

    ''This negates the goodwill he has expressed," Mr Liu said.

    Rupert Wingfield Hayes reports
    "President Chen declared Taiwan is a country"
    See also:

    01 Aug 02 | Business
    17 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
    15 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
    13 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
    30 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
    25 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    03 Oct 00 | Taiwan Election
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