Washington Post

News Article

China Threatens War Over Taiwan

By Charles Hutzler

Associated Press Writer

Monday, Feb. 21, 2000; 8:02 a.m. EST

BEIJING –– Stepping up pressure on rival Taiwan as it enters the final month of a heated presidential election campaign, China warned the island today that refusal to negotiate unification might cause the mainland to wage war.

China's cabinet, in a new policy paper on Taiwan, added Taiwanese foot-dragging on unification to the usual provocations that Beijing has long said would bring a Chinese attack: foreign meddling or an outright declaration of independence by the island.

While stopping short of setting a timetable for unification, the State Council policy paper signaled the communist government's growing impatience with Taiwan's resistance to Chinese overtures.

Underscoring the threat of force, the Hong Kong media, which is widely followed in Taiwan, reported over the weekend that Chinese President Jiang Zemin was in southern China touring military bases that would contribute to any invasion force of the island.

The tactics ominously echoed Taiwan's last presidential election four years ago. Then, China tested missiles near the island to dampen independence sentiment, and the United States sent in warships to bolster Taiwan, once a close Cold War ally, raising tensions in the area to their highest level in more than 30 years.

China and Taiwan separated 51 years ago amid a civil war that never formally ended. While the mainland's communists still claim Taiwan as a rebel province, Taiwan's democratic government insists reuniting should be put off until China embraces democracy.

The State Council said if Taiwan goes independent, or foreigners invade, or Taiwanese refuse indefinitely to peaceful negotiations, "then the Chinese government will be forced to adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force, to ... fulfill the great cause of reunification."

Its policy paper included a warning to the United States, calling on Washington to scale back arms sales to Taiwan and "not to stand in the way of the reunification of China."

"Acting otherwise will destroy the external conditions necessary for the Chinese government to strive for peaceful reunification," said the document.

In Taipei, the Mainland Affairs Council, which handles Taiwan's China policy, did not immediately respond to the report. But how to deal with China has been at the center of the race to succeed Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui in the March 18 election.

Although there's no sign China is planning to stage menacing war games, the State Council paper raised questions about what lessons Chinese leaders drew from the tense standoff in 1996. Senior U.S. diplomats in talks last week urged China to show restraint and see the Taiwan election as an opportunity for a fresh start.

The State Council document vilified Taiwan's Lee for promoting separatism in the 1990s – a tactic that only served to gain him more support in 1996. It noted that threats of force have worked in curbing independence sentiment.

"Lee Teng-hui has become the general representative of Taiwan's separatist forces, a saboteur of the stability of the Taiwan Strait, a stumbling-block preventing the development of relations between China and the United States and a troublemaker for the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region," it said.

As evidence, the paper offered Lee's foreign forays to the United States and elsewhere to break Beijing's diplomatic blockade of Taiwan, his promotion of a separate Taiwanese cultural identity and his suggestion in July that China and Taiwan treat each other as equal states.

Lee's "two-states theory" brought renewed threats of force from China. The State Council paper, which never mentioned the upcoming election, noted that Chinese opposition forced Taiwan to abandon plans to amend the constitution and laws to incorporate Lee's policy.

Much of the document appealed to Taiwan to recognize that it is part of "one China" which is ruled by Beijing. "Only by adhering to the One-China Principle can peaceful reunification be achieved," the document said.