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China warns of Taiwan 'disaster'

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

Taiwan's President Chen says the island needs a new constitution.
Taiwan's President Chen says the island needs a new constitution.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Beijing has delivered its toughest warning to date against Taiwan holding a pro-independence referendum or changing its constitution to pursue full sovereign status.

Any such moves would bring about "a disaster for Taiwan" Beijing's cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) was quoted as saying Monday.

The warning follows a rally held in the southern city of Kaohsiung last weekend by nearly 200,000 supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and other pro-independence groups calling for measures to speed up the achievement of statehood.

These include the early passage of a law on plebiscites -- and revising the constitution by 2008 to change the formal name of the self-ruled island from Republic of China to Taiwan.

The official Chinese media on Monday quoted the TAO as saying "the splittist activities of Taiwan independence [groups] have endangered the fundamental interests of Taiwan compatriots."

Without mentioning specific actions, the TAO warned that Taiwan separatism was "bound to fail completely."

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, also DPP Chairman, has urged the island's legislature to speed up the passage of a law on referendums, which may be used to confirm the public's support for full-fledged statehood.

Addressing demonstrators in Kaohsiung, Chen indicated the constitution should be revised and implemented by 2008 to reflect Taiwan's "new identity as a real country."

Political analysts in Beijing said the Chinese leadership was wary of Chen playing up pro-independence sentiments in the run-up to presidential elections next March.

Beijing has, however, refrained from saber-rattling such as holding war games along the coast.

The analysts said the leadership of President Hu Jintao had concentrated on urging the U.S. and major Asia-Pacific countries to help rein in Taiwan separatism.

During his just-completed visit to Thailand and Australia, Hu reiterated that the pro-independence movement was the "biggest threat" to peace in the Taiwan Strait and in the region.

Chinese Defense Minister General Cao Gangchuan, who is meeting senior American officials in Washington early this week, is expected to press the U.S. government not to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan.

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