Sun, Mar 06, 2005 - Page 1 News List

China vows to prevent independence

NO DETAILS The Chinese premier was all style and no substance in assailing `secessionist forces,' but China's president seemed to present an olive branch of sorts

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AP , BEIJING

A group of college students at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial clench their fists or sit in protest at China's proposed ''anti-secession'' law yesterday. They called on Beijing to respect Taiwanese people.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Delivering the main opening address to China's National People's Congress (NPC) yesterday morning, Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) vowed that Beijing would never permit formal independence for Taiwan.

His comments came as the NPC prepared to consider an "anti-secession" law that would likely mandate a military response if Taiwan formally seceded from China. The measure is the culmination of a show of resolve by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) after he became China's military leader late last year.

Wen gave no details of the planned law, which Taipei says could set the stage for a military attack.

Wen said the law reflected the "strong determination of the Chinese people to ... never allow secessionist forces working for `Taiwan independence' to separate Taiwan from China."

Wen's two-hour speech, interrupted repeatedly by applause, focused on domestic concerns. But in a passing reference to foreign affairs, Wen sounded standard themes, saying China would oppose terrorism and hegemony -- Beijing's term for sweeping US global power.

Wen vowed to push forward with the costly modernization of the huge but antiquated People's Liberation Army, whose 2.5 million members make up the world's biggest fighting force.

On Friday the government announced a 12.6 percent increase in military spending -- its fourth double-digit increase in five years as it tries to back up threats to attack Taiwan.

It said it plans to spend 247.7 billion yuan (US$30 billion) on its military this year, though analysts say China's true spending is as much as several times the reported figure.

Wen said military modernization was key to "safeguarding national security and reunification" -- a reference to Taiwan.

"We will intensify scientific and technical training for soldiers to turn out a new type of highly competent military personnel," Wen said.

On Friday, Hu also took a militant stance against what he called "secessionist forces" in Taiwan, but also cited "new and positive factors" that could reduce cross-strait tensions.

Making rare extended comments about Taiwan to NPC delegates on Friday, Hu reiterated a hard line on Taiwanese independence, which he said China would "never tolerate." The comments appeared to underscore his plan to pass the anti-secession law. But he did not mention the legislation, describe its contents, or discuss the merits of enacting it.

Instead, he struck a relatively moderate tone, perhaps reflecting the fact that Taiwan and China, under heavy US pressure, have softened their rivalry since Hu first broached the idea of the law in December.

Hu said there were "certain signs of relaxation" in Taiwan's approach. While he did not specify the developments, he appeared to be referring to a shift in tone by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

Hu seemed to signal that he was willing to open a dialogue with Chen, though only under the strict conditions China has set for talks for many years -- that Taiwan accept the "one China" policy.

"No matter who he is and which political party it is, and no matter what they said and did in the past, we're willing to talk with them on issues of developing cross-strait relations and promoting peaceful reunification as long as they recognize the one-China principle," Hu said.

The comments do not amount to a substantive concession and may be overshadowed by passage of the anti-secession law, which both Taipei and Washington have called a provocation. But the tone of the comments suggest that Hu is probing for an improvement in relations.

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