Taiwan to China: Stop interfering
President Chen's proposed referendums on constitutional issues have provoked Beijing.
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Taiwan has hit back at threats by China to use force against its pro-independence moves, telling Beijing to "mind its own business".
In a statement release late Wednesday, the Taiwan government told China it had no right to interfere with the island's push for a new constitution and referendum bill.
"Taiwan is a democratic country. Only its 23 million people have the right to decide its future and what is best for them," a spokesman for Taiwan's cabinet, Lin Chia-lung, said in the statement.
"We can't tolerate interference with our internal affairs by any undemocratic countries," Reuters reports Lin saying.
The response follows Beijing's threat to use force against Taiwan should the island's pro-independence movement continue to escalate -- the first time since 2000 that China has issued such a warning.
In a tough statement, the Vice-Minister at Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office Wang Zaixi said Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's recent pro-separatist activities had crossed Beijing's "red line" and that they "run the risk of triggering a war" with the mainland.
"War will break out if the island declares formal independence," state media on Wednesday quoted Wang as saying.
"[The separatist forces] are set to pay a high cost if they think we will not use force against their conspiracy to promote formal independence."
Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to use force if the self-governing island declares independence.
In the past month or so, President Chen has indicated Taipei will be holding referendums on political issues -- and that the island's constitution will be revised in 2006 to reflect full-fledged statehood.
A representative from China's People's Liberation Army also spoke out for the first time since controversy broke out several months ago over Taiwan's "creeping independence" gambit.
The official China News Service quoted a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Science, Luo Yuan, as saying that "the day 'Taiwan independence' is promulgated is also the time when war will be declared."
Luo said a number of senior PLA generals shared this feeling of urgency.
He added that if the army were to do nothing in the face of Taiwan independence, "we would be going against the constitution and this would be a severe dereliction of duty."
War of words
During Taiwan polls in early 2000, Beijing also threatened to use force against the break-away island.
Other heavyweight figures who have given warnings to Taipei include party elder Wang Daohan, adviser to ex-president Jiang Zemin on Taiwan affairs.
Wang, also a former chief negotiator with Taiwan officials, said Taipei's recent pro-independence activities amounted to a "serious challenge" to Beijing -- and they will "push cross-Taiwan Straits relations to the brink of danger."
Diplomatic analysts in Beijing and Taipei said the Chinese leadership had upped the ante in the war of words because Beijing feared Chen might sweep to victory in presidential elections coming up in March next year.
During presidential polls in early 2000, Beijing also threatened to use force against the break-away island.
Since then, however, the Communist party leadership has cooled down their rhetoric and threats of a "liberation warfare" to achieve reunification have very seldom been made in public.
The analysts said the escalation in tension had followed Beijing's fears that some political elements in the U.S. were providing covert aid to Taipei, and that Chen's re-election chances had been lifted because of his ability to whip up pro-separatist sentiments among the populace.
-- CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam contributed to this report