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Sunday, 4 August, 2002, 05:37 GMT 06:37 UK
China attacks Taiwan independence talk
President Chen Shui-bian
Chen made his call in a video address shown in Japan
China has said it will never tolerate independence for Taiwan.

A foreign ministry spokesman was reacting to Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's call for a referendum on the issue.

Chinese soldiers on parade
China has threatened to invade if Taiwan declares independence
"There is only one China in the world and the mainland and Taiwan are both a part of China," a foreign ministry spokesman told the French news agency AFP.

"The separation of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity will never be tolerated."

Taiwan broke with China at the end of a civil war in 1949 and Beijing still views the island as a renegade province.

'Two countries'

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.

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

    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.

    Mr Chen's comments made front-page headlines on the island, with some newspapers questioning the wisdom of provoking China while the island is struggling to revitalise a sluggish economy.

    "The Taiwan question is never an issue that needs to be resolved with any immediacy, and there are no signs that Beijing is pressing for a showdown," said a Sunday editorial in the China Times, one of Taiwan's biggest newspapers.

    Another mass-circulation newspaper, the United Daily News, said in an editorial that the president was reneging on an earlier pledge to compromise with China and lead Taiwan on a "new middle way".

    "From today on, all the 23 million people here have to count down on the referendum," it said.

    The newspaper also warned that Mr Chen's remarks could force Taiwan's close ally, Washington, to join forces with Beijing to create a "firewall" to keep Taiwan from taking any drastic moves.

    'Rallying cry'

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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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