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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 05:13 GMT 06:13 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Taiwan alert over Chinese threat

President Lee Teng-hui: Remarks infuriated China

Taiwan says it is monitoring the movement of Chinese forces after China issued its clearest warnings so far of possible military action in response to a row over changing the island's ties with the mainland.

Taiwanese defence forces have heightened combat alertness on the frontline Kinmen island in case of possible invasion by China, French News agency AFP quoted an officer as saying, despite denials from the country's defence ministry.

BBC Beijing Correspondent James Miles: "Concerns are growing"
Chinese Defence Minister Chi Haotian said on Wednesday that the People's Liberation Army was ready to "safeguard the territorial integrity of China and smash any attempts to separate the country."

The Chinese army newspaper said it had never renounced the use of force against the island.

Last week, Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui said that bilateral ties should be based on relations between two separate states. But Beijing regards the island as a renegade province and an inseparable part of China.

The Taiwanese president's statement ran directly against the so-called "one China policy" held sacred by Beijing.

'Splittist' intentions

On Wednesday the official People's Daily newspaper said any attempt by Taiwan to challenge the one-China principle "will fail".

[ image: China's 1995 wargames provoked the US to intervene]
China's 1995 wargames provoked the US to intervene
It said any effort to deny that Taiwan was a part of China was "overrating one's strength like an ant trying to topple a tree."

"Lee Teng-hui has totally stripped away his disguise and revealed all his splittist cards," the paper added.

BBC Beijing correspondent James Miles says that China's growing fury is likely to spark concerns in Taiwan that China might stage a new series of war games in the Taiwan Straits.

Four years ago China staged a series of military exercises and missile firings in the area in protest at a private visit to the US by the Taiwanese president.

The United States sent two carrier groups to the area to keep a lid on tensions.

US seeks clarification

Some commentators have suggested that President Lee is seeking to take advantage of a nadir in US-China relations, following the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, to redefine Taiwan's status as a lasting legacy before he leaves office next year.

On Tuesday a US State Department spokesman said Washington continued to support the principle that there was only one China.

He said the US wanted to know the significance of President Lee's remarks.

Other observers think that President Lee may also want to strengthen Taiwan's position in any talks about its relations with China.

Use of force

China has refused to rule out the use of military force against the island should it declare independence.

According to Taiwan's official guidelines on relations with the mainland, adopted eight years ago, the two sides should deal with each other as what are termed "equal political entities".

But our correspondent says the term is deliberately vague because of the mainland's sensitivities about anything that implies that Taiwan is a separate sovereign nation.

The Chinese press has seen President Lee's remarks in the context of presidential elections planned for Taiwan next year.

"Holding a banner of seeking independence and 'freedom' for Taiwanese, 'President' Lee is actually paving the way for his year 2000 election," the China Daily said on Tuesday.

President Lee, re-elected in Taiwan's first presidential election in 1996, cannot stand for another term in office, but is a staunch supporter of current Vice President Lien Chan for the post.

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