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China ups anti-Chen crusade

By CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam

Chen rallies supporters during his re-election campaign.
Chen rallies supporters during his re-election campaign.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Chinese generals have joined the campaign to vilify Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, a signal that Beijing is mobilizing more resources, including military means, to thwart Chen's alleged "creeping independence" crusade.

In a meeting with a military delegation from Macedonia, Defense Minister General Cao Gangchuan blasted Chen's alleged attempt to use referendums as a tool for separatism.

"Chen Shui-bian's goal is to damage Taiwan's status quo," the state media on Wednesday quoted Cao as saying.

"While flying the flags of 'democracy' and 'human rights,' Chen's objective is to hold referendums to achieve Taiwan independence. His separatist activities have become more deceitful and dangerous."

Taipei is due to hold two referendums on March 20, when island-wide polls will take place to determine whether Chen will have another four-year term as president.

While the plebiscites in question do not directly address the issue of statehood for Taiwan, Beijing has indicated the referendums presage bolder attempts by Chen and other pro-independence politicians to achieve independence.

Political analysts in Beijing said the enhanced involvement of People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers in the anti-Chen campaign was a sign the leadership of President Hu Jintao was stepping up the pressure on the self-ruled island.

Hu as well as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, ex-president Jiang Zemin, had until late last year discouraged members of the top brass from making elaborate public comments on diplomatic and Taiwan-related matters.

During defense consultation talks with senior representatives of the U.S. military held in Beijing earlier this month, however, Cao and other PLA officers were vociferous in asking Washington to scale down the sale of arms to Taiwan.

Western diplomatic sources have confirmed reports more weapons, troops and provisions have the past month or so been moved into the "frontline" provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang.

And civilian and military authorities are expected to take advantage of the upcoming plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) to mobilize national support for devoting more resources to the cause of national reunification.

"PLA delegates to the NPC will likely be lobbying for a bigger military budget to ensure that Beijing will have all means necessary to thwart Chen Shui-bian's 'pro-independence conspiracy'," a Beijing-based Western diplomat said.

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