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China warns Taiwan on perceived independence move

Reuters | September 27 2006

China blasted Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian on Wednesday for a plan to change the constitution and rename the island, moves Beijing would consider a formal declaration of independence of territory it claims as its own.

Chen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is studying constitutional changes to name the island the "Republic of Taiwan", instead of "Republic of China", and redefine its national territory.

Party members may introduce legislation next month.

"We will never tolerate their seeking de jure independence by amending the constitution," said Li Weiyi, spokesman for China's policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office.

"We will closely watch and be on high alert to new developments," he added, calling Chen's plan a "splittist" and "base" act that would threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and in the Asia-Pacific region.

"It once again demonstrates that he has never had credibility and his political personality has completely gone bankrupt," Li told a regular news conference.

Beijing, which considers the island a breakaway province, has vowed to attack if it declares formal independence. The two sides have faced off since China's defeated Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

WASHINGTON WARNING

Taiwan still officially styles itself the Republic of China and claims sovereignty over mainland China in its constitution.

But Chen's DPP, which ended more than 50 years of Nationalist rule on the island in 2000, has frequently upset Beijing by advocating a Taiwan identity separate from China and pushing to "re-engineer" what it sees as an anachronistic constitution.

The United States, which recognizes Beijing's "one China" policy, warned Chen on Monday against seeking the changes.

"The United States does not support independence for Taiwan, and we continue to be opposed to unilateral changes in the status quo by either side," State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

"We also take very seriously President Chen's repeated commitments not to permit the constitutional reform process to touch on sovereignty issues, which includes territorial definition ... we expect him to carry out those commitments."

Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to defend the island.

Taiwan media on Wednesday quoted Chen's office as saying the proposed changes would not violate his previous commitments.

Li, the Chinese spokesman, said Chen's move was intended for personal gain amid mounting pressure in Taiwan, where protesters across the island have called for him to step down in recent weeks over allegations of corruption.

Opposition lawmakers presented their second motion to oust Chen in three months on Tuesday, though the chance of success was remote as they lack a two-thirds majority in parliament.

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