- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

China solemnly warned Taiwan yesterday that continued refusal to negotiate reunification with the mainland could lead to an attack on the island.
In an 11,000-word "white paper," the State Council, China's highest executive organ, said that if Taiwan continued to delay unification talks, "then the Chinese government will be forced to adopt all drastic measures possible, including the use of force, to … fulfill the great cause of reunification."
Although China steadfastly has refused to rule out the use of force to bring about unification, heretofore it has limited its attack threats to an outright declaration of independence by Taiwan or a foreign intervention there.
"This is unquestionably a hardening of the Chinese position," said John Tkacik, a former Foreign Service officer in Asia and now a publisher of a weekly newsletter on Taiwan.
The policy statement also cautioned the United States to scale back arms sales to Taiwan whose defense Washington must by law assist and "not … stand in the way of the reunification of China."
Hailing yesterday's warning, China's People's Daily today in an editorial said reunification had taken on new urgency.
The editorial also hinted at approval for a proposal by Taiwan's vice president, Lien Chan, a leading contender in Taiwan's scheduled March 18 elections, for more direct trade links between Taiwan and the mainland.
"Since Hong Kong and Macao returned to the motherland, the cause of resolving the Taiwan issue and achieving complete reunification has entered into a new stage," said the paper.
There was no immediate reaction from Taiwan's government or any of the three top candidates: Lien Chan of the ruling Nationalist Party; James Soong, an independent; and Chen Shui-bian of the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party.
The statement also followed a two-day visit to Beijing last week by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and high-ranking U.S. defense and security officials. Mr. Talbott was reported to have sought a pledge of restraint by the Chinese leadership during and beyond the Chinese election campaign.
China, in turn, demanded that the United States refrain from arming Taiwan further and said Washington should give up its efforts to build a theater missile defense on China's perimeter.
Mr. Talbott, after concluding talks with China's highest-ranking foreign affairs official, Vice Premier Qian Qichen, called the session "intense" but gave no hint that it made any progress.
The white paper said Taiwan's insistence that China embrace Western-style democracy before any merger was an "excuse" to delay reunification.
"The Chinese government and people are fully determined and and capable of safeguarding China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and fulfilling the great cause of reunification," it said.
In Washington, the House has passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act that would establish direct military communications between the United States and Taiwan and permit military training for Taiwanese personnel.
The idea of beefing up Taiwan's security originated in the office of Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with the goal of warding off Chinese threats.
It was made public at a conference last year to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, passed to protect Taiwan after the United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
The Helms proposal would include new military hardware as well. The House bill is a compromise measure.
Discussions of a theater missile defense system are an outgrowth of a North Korean launching two years ago of a missile over Japan. The United States and Japan have been vague on whether such a system would defend Taiwan.
The Chinese threat to use force in advance of Taiwan's presidential election recalls Beijing's decision four years ago, on the eve of another presidential election, to conduct military exercises, including live missile fire, just north of Taiwan.
In response, the United States sent two warships to the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait. It took two summits between Presidents Clinton and Jiang Zemin to ease the resulting tensions.
Last year, China reacted angrily to a statement by Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui that, henceforth, relationships between the two Chinese governments should be conducted on a "state-to-state basis."
Mr. Tkacik, the former Foreign Service officer, said his copy of the white paper, in the original Chinese, "completely rejects Taiwan's premise of negotiations with China as equals."
China considers Taiwan the most significant obstacle to improved Sino-American relations. Many Americans, official and unofficial, measure progress in relations by a broader yardstick, including human rights performance and Chinese arms sales to "rogue" nations and religious tolerance.
While the new Chinese threats may have emerged as a reaction to U.S. policy and Mr. Lee's search for more elbow room in the international arena, they may have been related to the course of the Taiwanese election campaign itself.
Mr. Soong, the candidate most eager to begin a new era of cooperation with the mainland, appears to have fallen behind, partly as a result of charges that he diverted party funds to his personal use.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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