China warned Taiwan's leaders that
their call for a new constitution and a law that will permit referendums could
be "disastrous for Taiwan." China fears these moves could produce a vote for
the island's independence.
Tension across the Taiwan Strait was raised as the Chinese government issued
a statement through its state news agency Xinhua denouncing what it called
separatists activities at a rally Saturday in Taiwan.
A spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affair's Office singled out Taiwanese
President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu for criticism.
The government spokesman warned that "the separatist activities by independence
elements directly endangers the basic interests of compatriots". He added that "activities
like this cannot be tolerated by the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation."
At the rally Saturday, Mr. Chen made it clear that his top campaign issue
for March presidential elections is a law advocating referendums so that Taiwanese
citizens could vote on a new constitution.
Although the Taiwanese president did not explicitly call for formal independence
from mainland China, he stated that a new constitution and the ability to hold
referendums would allow Taiwan to become a "normal and complete country."
Many believe that a referendum law would put Taiwan one step closer to voting
for independence from China.
China and Taiwan separated in 1949, when the Chinese Nationalist government
fled to Taiwan after a long civil war in mainland China.
Since then, Taiwan has wrestled with its ambiguous political status. The
Chinese government insists that Taiwan is a province of China, although the
Taiwanese government maintains a de facto sovereignty.
China has repeatedly warned that it will invade Taiwan if the island moves
toward independence. Although many of Taiwan's 23 million residents are in
favor of formal independence, increasing economic links between the two regions
have also boosted the numbers of people who are willing to reunify with China.
Despite warnings from opposition leaders that a major rally would upset Beijing
leaders, more than 100,000 people marched in Taiwan's port city of Kaohsiung
on Saturday in support of Mr. Chen's platform.