Oct 14, 2004

Taiwan: China balks at Taiwan's Call for Talks

China on Wednesday vehemently rejected conciliatory overtures made this week by Taiwan, but Taiwan's president was not dissuaded, calling for patience
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China on Wednesday vehemently rejected conciliatory overtures made this week by Taiwan, but Taiwan's president was not dissuaded, calling for patience.

Zhang Mingqing, a spokesman for mainland China's Taiwan Affairs Office, condemned Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, for once again hinting in a speech Sunday that Taiwan was not part of China.

In his speech, Chen proposed that the two sides revive negotiations held in Hong Kong in 1992. But in the first official Chinese reaction to Chen's speech, Zhang said at a news conference that China placed no stock in the call to end the standoff.

"Chen Shui-bian's talk of a thaw is bogus," he said. "His pursuit of Taiwanese independence is real."

Zhang said renewed negotiations were out of the question unless Taiwan accepted the principle that both sides of the Taiwan Strait are part of one China. Beijing maintains that such an acknowledgment is the key.

"Our stance and attitude haven't changed," Zhang said. "It is on the basis of one China that we can set aside our political disputes and make an early return to plans and talks about the two sides of the strait."

Using the fiery language that China customarily directs at Taiwan's government, Zhang called Chen's speech "an open and audacious expression of Taiwanese independence," and he criticized measures taken by Chen to highlight Taiwan's separate status.

Zhang also dismissed a follow-up proposal by Taiwan late Monday to allow direct cargo and passenger flights across the Taiwan Strait. He said Taiwan must accept that these would be domestic flights under the one-China principle. Although Taiwanese businesses have invested more than $100 billion in China, executives can travel there only by passing through a third country or region, usually Hong Kong.

Chen, whose nickname is A-bian, has repeatedly refused to embrace the one-China principle. But he told reporters in Taipei that he was not concerned by Beijing's dismissive response.

"A-bian, the government and the people all need to have more patience," he said. "It's going to be fine.

"Washington told me through a private channel that they welcomed and supported my peace proposal delivered in the speech. They also told me in advance that Beijing would make such reaction."

Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, which favors greater political independence for the island, will be contesting legislative elections on Dec. 11 and hopes to win a majority for the first time. His conciliatory speech on cross-strait relations has been widely seen in Taiwan as part of an attempt to woo moderate voters.

His main foe in the elections, the Nationalist Party, favors closer relations with the mainland.

While Chen suggested Sunday that contacts resume, he also made assertions about Taiwanese sovereignty, seeming to define the Republic of China, which the Taiwanese government has called itself for decades, as Taiwan but not the mainland.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman praised Chen's speech on Sunday. In turn, China's Foreign Ministry warned the United States on Tuesday not to "send any wrong signals" to Taiwan. The United States has also been pressing Taiwan to buy new weapons to strengthen it against China's military.

Many foreign policy experts had predicted that Beijing would dismiss Chen's initiatives. China's Communist Party leadership tends to make decisions slowly, especially on the potentially explosive subject of Taiwan.

The big question from the beginning has been whether the latest overtures would spur any rethinking of Taiwan policy by President Hu Jintao of China before January, the 10th anniversary of a speech by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, laying out China's general policy on Taiwan.

Minxin Pei, a prominent China expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said in a speech in Hong Kong on Wednesday that the leaders of China and Taiwan were being pushed onto a collision course by the two sides' diverging public opinion.

Popular sentiment in Taiwan increasingly supports greater independence, while on the mainland nationalist sentiment for holding on to Taiwan seems to be building at the grass roots in China, he said.

Source: IHT