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China rejects Taiwan 'terror' barb

Chen, left, with Lu after announcing she would be his running mate during presidential elections next year.
Chen, left, with Lu after announcing she would be his running mate during presidential elections next year.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (Reuters) -- Beijing has rejected accusations by Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu that China's missile deployments

amounted to terrorism, calling the claims unreasonable and repeating its opposition to anyone trying to split the island from the mainland.

"No country would call actions to protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity terrorism. So I think the comments of the person you mentioned are unreasonable," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference on Tuesday.

"We oppose any person using any excuse or in any name splitting Taiwan from China," Liu said.

Lu -- a fierce advocate of independence from China -- said the missiles aimed at Taiwan are a form of "state terrorism" and a referendum calling for their removal is necessary to defend the self-governed island.

"Four hundred and ninety-six missiles are no joke. We should let the world know this kind of state terrorism already exists," Lu told Reuters.

President Chen Shui-bian plans a referendum asking China to remove missiles aimed at the island alongside presidential elections next March, a move that has riled both Washington and Beijing.

Tension between China and Taiwan has been rising since the island's parliament passed a bill last month to permit referendums. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has threatened to attack if the island declares statehood.

Lu showed no signs of backing down from the plan despite a blunt warning by U.S. President George W. Bush last week against either side upsetting the status quo.

She said a vote was necessary to highlight the increasing threat and would help defend the island's security.

"If we cannot effectively block it, the number of missiles may rise to 650 or even 800," Lu said in her first interview to foreign media after Chen picked her last week as his running mate in next year's presidential race.

"This indicates China absolutely has the intention to use force to invade Taiwan. It may be a little late for the world to know that, but it's never too late."

Lu is something of an unpopular figure in China where state media have characterized her as a "traitor" and "scum of the nation."

Taiwan's main opposition Nationalist Party, staking out an election position partly based on better ties with China, came out strongly against Chen's plans for a referendum -- which Beijing sees as a step towards independence.

The Nationalists appear to be drawing a clear line between themselves and Chen, who wants to pursue the referendum but says it is not about independence or changing the political status quo.

Lu brushed aside criticism that the referendum was an election gambit by her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party to provoke China -- and thus garner votes.

She said the president was only empowered to hold such a vote after parliament approved the referendum bill last month.

Beijing and Taipei have been diplomatic and military rivals since their split at the end of a civil war in 1949, but trade, investment and tourism have blossomed since detente began in the late 1980s, mostly routed through Hong Kong.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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