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March 2000: Populist former lawyer Chen Shui-bian wins presidency
  Independence dilemma

A new rift between Taiwan and China was threatened by the election to the presidency in March 2000 of Chen Shui-bian of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

But Mr Chen, a former lawyer with a populist touch, took care not to antagonise Beijing during the election.

He promised not to declare independence so long as Beijing did not use force against Taiwan. He also pledged not to hold a referendum on independence or reunification and offered several concessions and gestures towards China, such as opening up direct trade links.

But Chinaís leadership remained distrustful of Mr Chenís motives, regularly claiming his real ambition was full independence for the island.

The lack of progress with China, which continued to refuse to hold talks with Mr Chen, may have prompted him to take a harder line.

In August 2002 he made a veiled threat to hold a referendum and referred to China and Taiwan as each being a country on either side of the Taiwan Strait - "one side, one country".

China has always seen Taiwan as a renegade province and Mr Chenís comments were seen by some as a coded call for formal independence.

Analysts said the comments appeared to have been designed to win the support of independence activists inside the DPP. But with China hanging on his every word, Mr Chen must have known his comments would infuriate Beijing too.

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