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China's Hu warns Taiwan residents

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam CNN Senior China Analyst

Hu has warned Taiwan not to take steps toward independence.
Hu has warned Taiwan not to take steps toward independence.

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(CNN) -- President Hu Jintao has warned in an internal circular to senior party cadres it is up to Taiwan residents to choose between peace and war.

In a separate move, Hu, also Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), has asked his generals to make new assessments of the "military option" against the self-ruled island.

Even though the current Taiwan crisis is more serious than those in 1996 and 2000, none of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) members except Premier Wen Jiabao have spoken out on the issue.

However, the challenges posed by Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, particularly his threats to hold sovereignty-related referendums, have been discussed at length in a number of meetings of the PSC, China's highest decision-making organ.

While Beijing has not repeated the missile drills of 1995-96, the possibility of some form of an "armed liberation" of Taiwan is higher than at any time in recent memory.

A party source close to Beijing's Taiwan policy-making establishment said the leadership had recently circulated parts of Hu's internal instructions on Taiwan.

Hu, also CCP General Secretary, indicated the party's credibility, if not survival, hinged on its ability to make progress in reunification -- and at least to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent.

'Two-faced'

As tensions across the Taiwan Strait show little sign of abating, China's president expressed displeasure at what he called the "two-faced policy" of the U.S.

"American officials have said relations with China are the best since [former president] Nixon's visit to China," Hu reportedly said.

"But U.S.-Taiwan relations are also at their best for decades."

Hu and his advisers, who think Chen's chances of getting re-elected have been enhanced by support from "anti-Chinese elements" in the United States, indicated Beijing had to send a tough message to both Taiwan and America.

"We must let Taiwan compatriots know that the future of Taiwan lies in their hands," the president reportedly said.

"The ballots they cast next March [at presidential polls] could determine whether there will be peace or war."

Because the party leadership realizes that rattling the saber openly could provoke more Taiwan voters into casting ballots for Chen, Hu's harsh messages have appeared in the guise of official media commentaries as well as statements by lower-level officials.

Sacrifices

A case in point is the recent threat issued by an Academy of Military Sciences strategist, Major-General Peng Guangqian, that Beijing was willing to take the risk -- and make the requisite sacrifices -- involved in a military solution of the Taiwan problem.

The official Outlook Weekly quoted Peng as saying Beijing was ready for six categories of setbacks and sacrifices: heavy military casualties; damage sustained by the eastern Chinese coast; drop in foreign investments; retrogression in economic development; strained relations with certain countries; and a global boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"The price for reunification will be paid if necessary," said Peng, echoing remarks made by Wen before his departure to the United States.

"We're prepared and we can pay it."

Analysts in Beijing said Peng was paraphrasing a decision collectively made by the PSC about China's readiness to use military means to thwart the "splittist conspiracy" of Chen and his pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The analysts said while People's Liberation Army (PLA) generals and intelligence experts had completed new evaluations of Taiwan's military strength -- as well as the likely reaction of the U.S. should war break out -- the PSC will not make any decision soon.

They added Hu and his colleagues would wait at least until the presidential elections. And if Chen is re-elected, Beijing will assess whether it is likely he will push ahead with plans to change the Taiwan constitution by late 2006 to reflect the island's full statehood.

Ultra-radical agendas

In the meantime, however, hawkish elements in the army and the party have lost no time in advancing ultra-radical agendas.

While Wen indicated in New York this week that Beijing "would not let go of the slimmest chance to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully," hard-line opinions are gradually gaining ground within the CCP's upper echelons.

Chinese sources said the policy hawks had tabled several proposals to the PSC. One was to arrest the "splittist traitors" and to hold public trials of these figures in Beijing.

It is understood the list of these "sinners of a thousand antiquities" is headed by former president Lee Teng-hui, Chen, and several top DPP officials and politicians.

Seizing hold of the top "splittists," however, would involve the landing of large numbers of PLA troops on the island, an alternative that may not appeal to the civilian leadership.

Until recently, Beijing's favorite "liberation warfare scenario" consisted merely of a series of surgical missile strikes against military installations in order to cow the Taipei administration into accepting reunification plans to be imposed by the CCP.

One other radical proposal submitted to the PSC is promulgation of a Law on Reunification.

The statute would not only lay down China's rationale for taking back Taiwan -- and the contributions each Chinese should make to this effort -- but also a deadline for reabsorbing the island.

One version of the proposed law puts the timetable for reunification at the end of 2006, the very time when Chen said a referendum would be held to ratify a new Constitution for an independent Republic of Taiwan.


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