Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Taiwan `allies' get tongue-lashing

POINTED REMARKS China's foreign minister hinted that foreign countries were preventing unification; meanwhile the legislature increased military spending


China's foreign minister lashed out yesterday at people he accused of having "ulterior motives" toward Taiwan, insisting in several minutes of pointed commentary that Beijing would brook no interference in the de facto independent nation's fate.

"No one will be allowed to use any means to split Taiwan from the rest of China," Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) said on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's legislature.

Li's vehement comments on Taiwan were nothing new for China's government, but the fact that he made them was extraordinary. The issue is continually framed by Beijing as an internal affair that has no relevance to the Foreign Ministry.

But, said Li, "There's a lot I want to say." And he did.

"The Taiwan question bears on China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. To maintain national unity is the Chinese nation's most important mission," he said. "The Taiwan question has been complicated by some people unnecessarily, out of ulterior motives."

He added: "It's really a simple question. There is one China. Taiwan and the mainland are part of that one China."

"China's sovereignty and territorial integrity brook no division. In the end, this is an internal affair of China," Li said. "The Chinese people love peace, but we will not allow any external force to interfere in our quest for reunification."

He also reiterated that Taiwan was "the biggest issue in Sino-US relations." The US has diplomatic relations with China but, under US law, must guarantee Taiwan's security.

Li's comments came two weeks before Taiwan holds a presidential election and a referendum on public opinion about the missiles China has pointed at the island.

Also yesterday, China announced an 11.6 percent hike in military spending, a high-profile expression of support for the People's Liberation Army days before the referendum. The added spending is needed to improve the "defensive combat readiness of the armed forces under high-tech conditions," Finance Minister Jin Renqing (金人慶) said.

Jin didn't give a total for spending on the world's largest military but said outlays this year would increase by 21.8 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion), or 11.6 percent. Last year's announced military budget was 185.3 billion yuan (US$22.4 billion), an increase of 9.6 percent.

The official budget does not include weapons purchases, research and development and other costs. The Pentagon puts actual spending at up to four times the public figures.

China is struggling to make its poorly equipped 2.5 million troops more effective and to adapt to a high-tech world. It has given the politically influential military double-digit budget increases every year for 15 years -- except last year.

"We will focus on developing new and high technology weaponry and equipment, foster a new type of highly competent military personnel and promote modernization of our armed forces," Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said Friday in his report to China's nominal legislature at the opening of its 10-day annual session.

Wen acknowledged the challenge of balancing national defense needs with the requirements of economic development -- especially the need to help the nation's struggling farmers.

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