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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Taiwan warned on independence
Taiwan flag
Pro-independence supporters would welcome the US' support
The United States has called on the Taiwanese president not to declare Taiwan independent of China, following his pledge to revise the country's constitution.

The US State Department said Washington continued to believe Chen Shui-bian should adhere to the promise he made three years ago not to push for a referendum on Taiwan independence.

Mr Chen told supporters at the weekend that he wanted to rewrite Taiwan's constitution in 2006, to coincide with his party's 20th anniversary.

He did not say what he wanted to change, but analysts believe his planned revisions could move Taiwan closer to independence.

Correspondents say Washington is concerned that the move may anger China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, and has repeatedly threatened military action if Taiwan declares full independence.

Testy issue

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment directly on Mr Chen's remarks about the constitution, but he made it clear that the US did not want the situation changed.

"We noted in August of 2000 that President Chen pledged not to declare independence, not to change the name of Taiwan's government, not to add state-to-state theory to the constitution and not to promote a referendum that would change the status quo on independence or unification," Mr Boucher said.

"We have expressed our support and appreciation for that pledge in 2000, and his subsequent reaffirmations of it, and we continue to take it very seriously," he told reporters.

Mr Chen has already voiced his support for a referendum on Taiwan's independence, and has backed moves to change the island's name, which is officially known as the Republic of China.

The name is a legacy from when the Nationalist Party, which ruled mainland China, fled to the island after losing a civil war to the communists in 1949.

Fewer than 30 countries formally recognise Taiwan as an independent country. It was replaced at the United Nations by China in 1971.

The independence issue is expected to be central to next year's election campaign.

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