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China blasts Chen's 'disastrous' call

Chen's comments were likened to 'playing with fire' by analysts
Chen's comments were likened to 'playing with fire' by analysts  

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China's State Council has blasted Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's weekend comments which called for an independence referendum and implied that Taiwan is a country.

In a televised address to Taiwanese groups in Japan over the weekend, Chen said that Taiwan residents should seriously consider legislation on holding a referendum to decide the island's future.

Chen also indicated that "Taiwan and China on the other side [of the Strait], each side is a [sovereign] country."

A Chinese spokesman -- reading a prepared statement to reporters -- said the call for an independence vote amounted to exposing Chen's intent toward independence and compared Chen to former president Lee Teng-hui.

In 1999, Lee infuriated Beijing when he said that Taiwan and the mainland enjoy a "state to state" relationship. Beijing responded later that year to Lee's "two states theory" with a series of war games, including maneuvers involving missiles, close to Taiwan.

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No military response was announced by the State Council, but pro Beijing Hong Kong media reported that China plans to re-start military exercises near the straits of Taiwan.

Beijing added that Chen is trying to split China, and said that formally declaring independence will "bring Taiwan into disaster."

In its Sunday edition, Hong Kong's China-run daily, Wen Wei Po, quoted a "relevant official" in Beijing as warning Chen "not to play with fire."

The official said Chen's remarks on holding a referendum were tantamount to "gambling away the fundamental interests of the Taiwan people."

China accuses Taiwanese President Chen Shuibian of ratcheting up tensions by calling for an independence referendum. CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver reports.

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Wen Wei Po also quoted Li Jiaquan, a senior Beijing scholar on Taiwan, as saying Chen was spearheading "the transition from gradualist independence to radical independence."

"Those who play with fire will be burnt," Li warned.

Chinese sources familiar with Beijing's Taiwan policy said senior cadres, including members of the party Central Committee's Leading Group on Taiwan Affairs (LGTA), which is headed by President Jiang Zemin, were still assessing their response.

The LGTA, has, however, ordered that as a first measure a psychological warfare be launched against Chen and other pro-independence elements in Taiwan.

In its Monday edition, the Chinese-run Hong Kong paper, Wen Wei Po, reported that about 100,000 troops from different People's Liberation Army divisions were holding war games in the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang.

The paper quoted military officers as saying "the strategic goal [of the maneuvers] is the island of Taiwan" and that the troops were practicing the invasion of islands.

Five out of China's seven military regions, including the Shenyang Military Region in the northeast, were involved.

U.S. visit

On Sunday, CNS also ran pictures of officers from the Shenyang region taking part in naval exercises to take over beaches and islands.

Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said top Chinese leaders would likely issue a formal response through the cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office later this week.

Meanwhile, Taiwan media reported on Monday that Taipei would send Tsai Ing-wen, Chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council, to the U.S. to explain President Chen's latest mainland policies to the U.S. government.

The United Daily News said Tsai would tell Americans that Chen's remarks did not signal a change in the island's policy towards China.

She is expected to travel to the U.S. with Premier Yu Shyi-kun, who was scheduled to leave for New York on Monday on a previously scheduled Latin American trip.

The U.S. Government said on Sunday that Washington's long-standing "one-China" policy had not changed.

"Our policy with respect to China is well-known and long-standing and has not changed," U.S. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said.

-- CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam contributed to this report




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