- The Washington Times - Friday, November 28, 2003

BEIJING (Agence France-Presse) — China said yesterday it was “gravely concerned” about a referendum bill passed by Taiwan.

But while warning it would never tolerate independence for the island, China refrained from threatening war, as it has on numerous occasions in the past.

“We are gravely concerned about the situation surrounding Taiwan’s referendum law,” said an unnamed spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

“We are paying close attention to the development of the situation,” he said.

While the statement did not amount to the “strong response” promised earlier this week, and failed to repeat threats of military action, it made clear Taiwanese independence would never be permitted.

“We are firmly opposed to anyone using the referendum law to push independence for Taiwan. There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inseparable part of China’s sacred territory,” the spokesman said.

“China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be divided,” he said.

The bill that was passed in Taiwan’s parliament Thursday made possible referendums on sensitive issues such as independence and changes to Taiwan’s name, but also set hurdles that would make such changes hard to achieve in practice.

Despite the legislation enshrining the right to vote on contentious issues for the first time, China’s state media called it a “watered-down” law that was a “great defeat” for Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Taiwan is expected to be high on the agenda when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits the United States next month.

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