Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 4 News List

China `concerned' about referendum

VAGUE THREATS After initially saying the legislation removed the `imminent danger' of independence, China warned that it is paying close attention to how the issue develops

AGENCIES , TAIPEI AND WASHINGTON

Beijing shifted its response yesterday to new Taiwanese legislation on national referendums, expressing concern about the law and repeating previous warnings to Taiwan against seeking formal independence but stopping short of any threats.

The official New China News Agency had initially posted a commentary on its Internet site noting that the referendum legislation removed "the imminent danger of Taiwanese independence."

By Friday evening, a separate brief statement was added, quoting a spokesman for the Chinese government's Taiwan Affairs Office.

"We are deeply concerned about relevant things concerning referendum legislation in Taiwan and are paying close attention to the development of the issue," the spokesman said, adding no specifics.

The statement closed with a warning that any attempt to separate Taiwan from China "will not be tolerated absolutely." But in contrast with three warnings earlier this week of the possible use of force if a broad referendum law passed, the statement made no explicit threats.

The return on Friday to vague, albeit critical statements, was read by experts here as a sign of easing tension. A Chinese statement earlier this week had referred to Taiwan as a "shen sheng," or sacred, part of China, a term seldom used in recent years and viewed in Taiwan as a signal of great anger and intransigence in Beijing.

"I had goose bumps coming up when I saw it," said Su Chi (蘇起), a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) adviser on Taiwan Strait issues.

A senior Taiwanese government official on Friday spoke of an acute wariness of angering the US by allowing any crisis to develop with China when the Bush administration was already preoccupied with Iraq and North Korea.

The US State Department said on Friday that it respects the democratic process in Taiwan but opposes any attempt to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait or the use of force to solve bilateral differences.

An official said that the US advocates dialogue between China and Taiwan, which it believes is crucial to peace and stability in the region.

On Beijing's threat that Taiwan cannot use referendums or the introduction of a new constitution to move toward independence, the official said that the use of force is "unacceptable."

The US holds that the differences between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should be resolved by peaceful means, the official said.

He said that the US' one-China policy based on the Three Communiques with China and the Taiwan Relations Act remains unchanged and that Washington will not support Taiwanese independence.

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