Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Beijing media ups the ante
Media reports from mainland China on Taiwan's policy change have been taking on an increasingly belligerent tone in recent days.
A sign of how seriously Beijing viewed the significance of President Lee Teng-hui's remarks came in a swift response from a traditional source, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.
Soon after reports of the remarks began to circulate, spokesman Zhu Bangzao used a regular press conference to warn Taiwan to restrain itself "before it is too late".
"We sternly warn Lee Teng-hui and the Taiwan authorities that they should not underestimate the Chinese Government's firm determination to safeguard the country's sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, nor should they underestimate the Chinese people's courage and strength in opposing splittism and Taiwan independence," Zhu said.
To push the point home, a recording of his remarks was broadcast on Chinese television's main evening news bulletin, an unusual step.
"Lee Teng-hui and the Taiwan authorities must clearly recognise the situation, rein in their actions before it is too late, and immediately stop all activities aimed at splitting the motherland," Zhu added.
While last week's announcement that Chinese scientists had mastered the technology of the neutron bomb received prominent coverage in the official media, a heavyweight commentary in the army newspaper, the `Liberation Army Daily' (`Jiefangjun Bao') underlined the message, expressing "extreme indignation" over President Lee's comments.
Other official media, together with the official news agency Xinhua, carried reports of messages of support from ordinary Chinese citizens.
China Radio International's English language service told listeners that President Lee's remarks had triggered an "outcry among people on the mainland".
"Many of them have not only voiced their support for the central government, but also urged them to guard against further attempts by the Taiwan authorities to separate from China," it said.
The `China Daily' reported that according to a nationwide telephone poll carried out at the weekend the majority of Chinese "feel indignant" at the change in Taipei.
"A total of 94.7 per cent of people inquired said they were "shocked" and felt "disgusted " when they learned of Lee's remarks," it said.
Meanwhile, the Chinese-controlled press in Hong Kong has carried a number of articles in recent days supporting the Beijing line and warning of the danger of war.
`Wen Wei Po' quoted Major General Su Jing, deputy chief of staff of the Nanjing Military Region, as saying that President Lee was "playing with fire" and his actions would result in "drowning himself in a boundless ocean of the people's war".
Reporting President Jiang Zemin's telephone conversation with President Clinton at the weekend, `Ta Kung Pao' said that "if Taiwan `declares independence' or foreign forces interfere in China's reunification, we will in no way sit idly by and remain indifferent".
The popular `Tai Yang Pao', which has no strong political slant, quoted an "informed source" as saying that the military action which it said was currently being envisaged by Beijing would represent the "war of the century".
"Prompted by hawkish elements in the People's Liberation Army, communist China's high-level leaders have decided to prepare for use of force to settle the Taiwan issue at any time.
"To meet with requirements for war, the first stage of the plan calls for blockading the Taiwan Strait and holding a large-scale military exercise near Taiwan, followed up by an attack on Taiwan in the second stage of an `asymmetrical war' so as to force Taiwan to sign a reunification treaty with the motherland," the paper reported.
By contrast with the increasingly strident tone of the media on the mainland, some reports in Taiwan have been at pains to play down the situation.
Taiwanese radio said the Defence Ministry had urged the public not to be alarmed, saying that the military had drawn up as many as 13 counter-attack plans.
Maj-Gen Chen Shao-yun, from the office of Taiwan's vice-minister of national defence for operations, said Taipei's policy was "not avoiding war - we will prevent war but we are not afraid of war, we are prepared for war but we will not invite war".
Another officer, Gen Wu Yuen-chieh, "pointed out that the public should believe what the Ministry of National Defence says as it will never hide the truth. There is therefore no need for the public to be over-anxious," the radio said.
A leading economic newspaper, `Ching-Chi Jih-Pao', quoted the commander of the garrison on the front-line island of Matsu, Hsueh Shih-min, as saying that the situation there was normal. He denied the military was on a heightened state of alert.
Not everyone, however, was convinced: a meeting of more than 100 academics in Taipei urged President Lee to drop the " two states theory" immediately.
According to Taiwan's Central News Agency, the meeting warned that the increased tension over the straits could lead to the reinstatement of martial law in Taiwan and the suspension of next year's crucial presidential election.
BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.