China asserts right to attack Taiwan if necessary

March 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China denied Saturday ever telling the United States it would not attack Taiwan, saying it reserves the right to reclaim Taiwan by force if necessary.

"China has never promised to give up the use of force, though of course this is not directed at the Taiwan compatriots, " Chinese state radio quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang as saying.

China ended missile tests this week in the Taiwan Strait but is continuing military exercises. Friday it announced a new round of military exercises overlapping with maneuvers that began Tuesday .

As late as Thursday the Clinton administration reported receiving assurances from Beijing that China did not intend to attack the island but merely discourage a move for independence prior to Taiwan's March 23 elections.

There was no immediate response from the Clinton administration on China's latest position. The United States military continues to monitor China's show of strength.

Map of China test area

China's assertion of its right to use force against Taiwan does not necessarily contradict what Chinese diplomats have told U.S. officials regarding the current exercises. China appears to be saying it has not changed its overall policy towards Taiwan -- that if Taiwan should seek independence, China would use any means to prevent it.

"Peaceful reunification and 'one country, two systems,' is our basic policy toward Taiwan. There has been no change," Shen said. "But in the circumstance of Taiwan's independence or its invasion by foreign forces, China will certainly take all necessary measures to protect the motherland's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Lee Teng-hui

China considers Taiwan a renegade province, to be recaptured by force if necessary. It accuses Taiwan President Lee Teng- hui, expected to win next week's elections, of discarding the goal of reunification. Lee has denied that he wants Taiwan to be independent but has been seeking a more high-profile role for Taiwan in the international community.

Lee is a member of the Nationalist Party, which fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists on the mainland. The Nationalist government in Taipei also considers Taiwan to be a province of China, but claims it -- not the government in Beijing -- is the legitimate one.

Taiwan bristles at Chinese aggression

A Taiwan official told China Saturday to cease military maneuvers at once.

"We demand that the Chinese Communists stop the military exercises right away," said Chang King-yu, chairman of the government's policy-making Mainland Affairs Council. "This kind of military intimidation is going to hamper the development of relations."

Matsu Island

Taiwan's officials continue to express confidence that China has no plans to invade Taiwan. Still it evacuated civilians from a tiny island in the Taiwan Strait near where the next round of military exercises is to occur. The 500 Taiwanese troops stationed on Wuchiu island are to remain for the present. About 150 residents of the Matsu island group, north of the military exercise zone, voluntarily evacuated their homes near where Taiwan held defensive military exercises Friday.

In Taipei Saturday, some 20,000 Taiwanese protested China's military maneuvers. It was the largest such protest since China announced plans March 5 to conduct missile tests near Taiwan.

Chanting "Taiwan independence" and "No reunification with China," the protesters marched through the streets of Taipei. The march was organized by Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party which supports independence from China. Frank Hsieh, DPP's candidate for vice president, said Saturday Taiwan should not let China dictate its policies. "We cannot dance to China's tune," Hsieh said.

DPP's presidential candidate Peng Ming-min is the leading challenger to President Lee, whose Nationalist party says it supports eventual reunification with China.

Hong Kong feels ripples of military exercises

In Hong Kong, the British colony set to revert to Chinese control next year, a Beijing spokesman said Saturday that residents should not be concerned over China's military exercises near Taiwan.

Only those contemplating independence in Hong Kong or Taiwan have reason to worry, said Zhang Junsheng, a spokesman for Xinhua News Agency, which serves as China's de facto embassy in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong officials in Washington urged the United States to exercise restraint in its policy toward China and Taiwan. The officials meeting in Washington to boost trade between Hong Kong and the United States said the Clinton administration should not bend from its position of recognizing only mainland China.

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