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Jill McGivering reports for BBC News
"Fears of invasion are back on the agenda"
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Saturday, 18 March, 2000, 13:44 GMT
China steps up war of words
soldiers
Taiwan's army is on heightened alert
China has increased pressure on Taiwan with the publication of a newspaper poll showing overwhelming support for war if the country declares independence.

The poll for an official newspaper on the last day before Taiwan's cliff-hanger presidential vote, showed 95% backing for war.

vote
The vote was very close
China's media have been repeating the message - independence means war - in attacks aimed at Chen Shui-bian, of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Mr Chen swept to victory in Saturday's poll following a closely fought election race against the Nationalist candidate Lien Chan and the independent Nationalist, James Soong.


We reject the use of force as an attempt to resolve cross-strait differences

US State Department spokesman James Rubin
China, which believes Taiwan is part of its territory, has suggested a victory by Mr Chen could bring a swift and furious reaction.

Our Beijing correspondent says the outcome of the election has been an obsession for China with newspapers reporting a petition signed by 90 million schoolchildren demanding reunification.

Although China has not resorted to the missile tests and military exercises it used to intimidate Taiwan's voters four years ago, the island's armed forces are nevertheless on heightened alert.

Military response

On Thursday the United States summoned China's ambassador to urge Beijing to tone down its warnings to Taiwan.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "With respect to the use of force, let me say categorically that we reject the use of force as an attempt to resolve cross-strait differences."

Since last summer Beijing has accused Taiwan's outgoing president, Lee Teng-hui, of moving towards independence, with his demand that the two sides should talk to each other as separate states.

Cheering voters
Voters were urged to ignore China's rhetoric
Yet in recent weeks Beijing has turned much of its fire away from Mr Lee's Nationalist Party, which has controlled Taiwan since losing China's civil war in 1949, and is still to some extent a known quantity for Beijing.

Instead, Chinese leaders have focused their attention on the strong showing for Mr Chen.

China's military newspaper accused Mr Chen of deception when he said he had moderated his stance and would not declare independence.

And Prime Minister Zhu Rongji said if Taiwan's voters made an impulsive choice, they might never have a chance to regret it.


If elected president, I will stop participating in any activities of the Democratic Progressive Party

Presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian
Mr Chen's victory clearly presents China with one of its biggest challenges in decades, yet many analysts believe an immediate military response is unlikely.

Mr Chen has been trying to distance himself from his party's separatist platform.

While campaigning in the streets on Friday, he criticised ads run by the ruling Nationalist blaming his party's pro-independence stance for the Chinese threats.

"If elected president, I will stop participating in any activities of the Democratic Progressive Party," he told supporters.

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See also:

16 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
'Patience' plea to China
15 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan's appeal to China's young
15 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China ups pressure on Taiwan
06 Mar 00 | Taiwan Election
Beijing's threats overshadow Taiwan poll
06 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's army warns Taiwan
29 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
China renews Taiwan threat
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