Associated Press

Taiwan Protests China Anti-Secession Law

Saturday March 26, 2005
By Stephan Grauwels, Associated Press Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Taiwan's capital on Saturday to protest a new Chinese law that authorizes an attack on the island if it moves toward formal independence. But China warned against stirring "new tension" and vowed never to back down.

In one of the largest demonstrations in Taiwan's history, the protesters assembled at 10 different areas in Taipei, with each route representing one of the articles of the anti-secession law. The marchers converged on the wide boulevard in front of the Presidential Office building.

"Taiwan is only a small island, so we must speak out really loud to make the world hear that we are a democracy facing an evil giant," said Vivian Wang, a 38-year-old restaurant worker who traveled by bus from the southern city of Kaohsiung about 190 miles away.

On Sunday, China said via government media that it stood by the controversial law, which was passed on March 14.

"The extreme Taiwan independence secessionists have been malevolently distorting the principles of the law to misguide the Taiwan people and instigate antagonism and create new tension across the Taiwan Strait," the commentary said.

Beijing is worried that self-ruled Taiwan is drifting toward independence, and the new law codifies the use of military force against the island if it seeks a permanent split. The island just 100 miles off China's southern coast has been resisting Beijing's rule since the Communists took over the mainland in 1949.

Taiwan has been able to enjoy de facto independence for more than 50 years, largely because the United States has warned it might defend the island if China attacks. America is also the only major nation that sells advanced weapons to newly democratic Taiwan, about the size of Maryland and Delaware combined.

"What do we want from China? Peace," lawmaker Bikhim Hsiao led the crowd in chanting.

Thousands of tour buses brought protesters to Taipei from all over the island. Police estimated the crowd at about a million. The rally was organized by private groups, but leaders of President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party played a high-profile role in the organization.

Chen long a fierce critic of Beijing's Communist leadership who has resisted China's increasing pressure to unify appeared at an intersection along one of the protest routes.

As he promised, Chen did not speak at the rally, but mounted the stage and chanted slogans with the crowds. Critics had said that holding a speech at the event might have provoked China.

A five-story-high white balloon representing peace, and an equally tall model of a red sea urchin, its needles symbolizing the missiles China is pointing at Taiwan, were erected at the protest site. The sea urchin model was deflated at the end of the rally, while protesters climbed over it, trying to tear it apart.

China's completely government-controlled media portrayed the march as "political carnival" and a waste of money that caused traffic jams.

"Taiwan independence march is an empty show of strength," read a headline in the Beijing Morning Post.

The newspapers didn't carry pictures of the march. CNN and BBC broadcasts, only available at hotels and apartment complexes for foreigners, were blacked out when they reported on the protest.

In Taiwan on Saturday, police set up barbed wire at the opposite side of the Presidential Office building to prevent protesters from turning their anger against the headquarters of the opposition Kuomintang Chinese Nationalist party. Leaders from the Nationalists who oppose independence and want to improve relations with China stayed away from the demonstration.

"Each person has his own way of opposing the anti-secession law, but in the end, Taiwan must have peace and stability," said Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan.

A handful of protesters ripped Chinese flags to pieces close to the building, but police prevented them from burning the flags. No major Supporters of Taiwan's cause also staged demonstrations overseas. In Hong Kong, about 100 protesters marched to oppose the anti-secession law. Taiwanese TV stations also showed footage of protests in Los Angeles, Brussels, Belgium and Amsterdam, The Netherlands.