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Beijing plots to undermine Chen

By Willy Lam for CNN

Beijing will be watching closely how Chen's government will go about revising Taiwan's constitution.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Beijing is mapping out strategies to undermine the authority of the controversially re-elected President Chen Shui-bian -- and to position itself as the real champion of Taiwan's 23 million people.

Should the on-going judicial enquiry and ballot recounting confirm Chen's legitimacy as second-term president, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership will redouble efforts to prevent the Taiwan supremo from achieving independence by the end of 2008.

However, it is most unlikely that Beijing will rattle the saber in the near term.

China's Leading Group on Taiwan Affairs, led by President Hu Jintao, will be assessing Chen's May 20 inaugural speech as well as the results of parliamentary elections due for December.

Most significantly, Beijing's Taiwan experts will be scrutinizing how Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) colleagues will go about revising the island's Constitution.

It should become clear by the middle of next year whether Chen will carry out his campaign pledge to radically rewrite the charter to "fully reflect Taiwan's statehood."

For example, Taiwan's official name may be changed from the Republic of China to just Taiwan, and relations with China may be classified as that with a "foreign country."

Senior CCP cadres have reiterated that should the constitutional revision result in a change in Taiwan's sovereignty, Beijing will use whatever means necessary to halt the process, including military force.

Military buildup

As an integral part of psychological warfare against the DPP administration, the military buildup in coastal provinces such as Fujian and Zhejiang will continue throughout the year.

In the run-up with last Saturday's polls, more troops, provisions and hi-tech weapons such as missiles had already been moved into the frontline provinces the past two months.

Moreover, Beijing will be playing the diplomatic -- and in particular the American -- card to rein in Chen.

The magnitude of American influence in Taiwan politics was also in evidence by the unexpectedly low proportion of voters -- 45 percent -- who chose to take part in the two referendums also held on Saturday.

The plebiscites were ruled invalid because the 50 percent "participation threshold" had not been reached.

The first referendum, asking whether Taiwan should boost its anti-missile defenses if China refuses to withdraw its missiles aimed at the island, had only 45.17 percent of voters in favor.

The second question, on whether to re-open talks with China on peace, had 45.12 percent of voters in favor. (Referendum fails)

According to Taiwan political science professor Hsu Yung-ming, the enthusiasm for referendums among Taiwan's residents had declined after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials had declared Washington's "non-support" for the electoral mechanism.

This was despite the fact that, again due to U.S. pressure, Chen had toned down the substance and language of the two plebiscites.

Diplomatic heat

Though the referendum failed, Chen may still bolster the island's defenses.

Beijing is expected to aggressively lobby the U.S. and major countries such as France to continue warning the Chen government of the dire consequences of "creeping independence."

A Chinese source close to Beijing's Taiwan policymaking process said Beijing was sorely disappointed that Chen's challenger, Kuomintang (KMT) Party Chairman Lien Chan, had lost by a whisker.

Earlier projections by units such as the cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office had projected a Lien victory by a margin of 3 percent or more.

The source said, however, that Beijing could exploit the claims of electoral fraud -- and the circumstances surrounding the apparent assassination attempt against Chen last Friday -- to play up allegations that the DPP leader was an unprincipled, power-hungry gambler.

State media such as the Xinhua News Agency are reportedly preparing lengthy articles to step up attacks against the self-proclaimed "son of Taiwan."

Political analysts in Taipei think that at least in the near term, Chen will offer olive branches to Beijing particularly in the area of the direct aviation links.

Should these overtures be rebuffed, however, the analysts say Chen may not heed Beijing's warnings about pressing ahead with separatism.

'Divine backing'

A legislator close to the ruling party said that having survived the assassination attempt -- and clinched a razor-thin electoral victory -- the 53-year-old leader felt that the heavens were on the side of the Taiwan cause.

"The President repeatedly said "God bless Taiwan" after emerging from the hospital last Friday," the legislator said. "It is evident that like his predecessor Lee Teng-hui, Chen is convinced his pro-independence crusade enjoys divine backing."

Moreover, the election results showed for the first time that the DPP had gained the support of more than 50 percent of the electorate.

And while the referendum on whether Taiwan should buy more weapons to counter Chinese missiles was declared invalid, Chen will likely go on a spending spree on armaments such as jet fighters and anti-missile batteries.

Nor are Taiwan analysts optimistic about an early resumption of a Taipei-Beijing dialogue.

Having refused to recognize the Chen administration for four years already, Beijing has even less reason to confer legitimacy on the DPP leadership by holding formal talks with Taipei during the president's second term.

However, the analysts say, given Taiwan residents' widespread disillusionment with politics, Beijing is projecting the image of a benevolent big brother eager to help them weather the turmoil engendered by last weekend's polls.

It is expected that Beijing will soon announce more sweet deals for Taiwan's powerful business community.

For example, the CCP leadership may unveil a trade package akin to the closer economic partnership arrangement between the mainland and Hong Kong.

Beijing will also try to convince Taiwan businessmen and opposition party leaders that only through embracing the motherland can the island remain prosperous -- and immune to "splittist" Chen's dangerous machinations.

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