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China: Parliament Authorizes Possible Attacks Against Taiwan

The Chinese parliament on 14 March passed an antisecession law that authorizes the use of force against Taiwan if it tries to secede from China. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao says the law is designed to advance the peaceful unification of China and Taiwan. But a government spokesman in Taiwan says Beijing must "bear the responsibility and pay a price" for enacting a law that authorizes war.

Prague, 14 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- China's prime minister is defending the new law, which authorizes military force to prevent Taiwan from gaining independence.

Speaking at a news conference in Beijing on 14 March, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the law is intended to ensure peace rather than to promote war.

"This law is, by no means, targeted against the people of Taiwan," Wen said. "It is to oppose and stop Taiwan independence forces. It is, by no means, a war bill. It is for the peaceful reunification of the country."

The law grants legal authority for China's leaders to order a military attack against Taiwan if they think the disputed island territory is moving too far toward independence.

Its overwhelming approval on 14 March by the National People's Congress comes just a day after Chinese President Wu Jintao ordered the People's Liberation Army to speed up its preparations for "possible military struggle" in order to "prevent wars and win the wars, if any [arise]."

Prime Minister Wen on 14 March also criticized a recent joint security declaration by the United States and Japan that lists a peaceful Taiwan Strait as a common objective. Wen described that U.S.-Japanese position as "foreign interference."

Taiwan and China split in 1949. But the communist mainland still claims the self-ruled island as its territory. Beijing has vowed to reunite the island of 23 million people with the mainland -- by force, if necessary. It also has threatened repeatedly to attack if Taiwan tries to make its de facto independence permanent.

Officials in Taiwan and the United States have criticized the new antisecession law as overtly provocative. They warn that it could further destabilize the fragile status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice anticipated passage of the bill during an interview yesterday for "This Week," a current-affairs program on U.S. television:

"Clearly it raises tensions, and it is not necessary or a good thing to raise tensions," Rice said. "The United States has been an upright anchor in this dispute for a long time. We have a 'one China' policy. Everybody understands that. The key is that there should be no effort on either side to unilaterally change the status quo."

In its first official reaction, Taiwan's government said on 14 March that the new law will have serious impact on security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Joseph Wu, chairman of the Taiwanese government's Mainland Affairs Council, said the law will make it difficult to maintain true peace and stability.

Wu said the law "provides a blank check" for China to annex Taiwan by force. He also said the law violates the fundamental rights of the Taiwanese and has caused "utter resentment" on the island.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party is organizing a demonstration on the island for 26 March to oppose the antisecession law. Officials in Taiwan say they hope as many as 1 million people will attend such protests.