Monday, December 27, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday cautioned China and Taiwan not to escalate tensions as Beijing issued a report warning that its military will “crush” the island if it formally declares independence from the mainland.

The threat from Beijing came in a defense policy white paper released by the communist government yesterday.

“We will never allow anyone to split Taiwan from China through whatever means,” said the report, “China’s National Defense in 2004.”

“Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of ‘Taiwan independence,’ the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost.”

Any conflict between China and Taiwan likely would involve the United States. President Bush set a new tone for U.S. policy in the region when he stated in 2001 that Washington would do “whatever it takes” to help Taiwan defend itself from a mainland attack.

Asked about the threat to Taiwan, Mr. Powell told reporters yesterday that the United States has encouraged China and Taiwan to “find ways to reach out to one another.”

“I’m aware that there is a modernization taking place in the Chinese armed forces, and we are monitoring that closely,” he said.

But Mr. Powell said he does not “see reason for immediate concern at the moment. I think everybody realizes that this is not the time to escalate tension in the straits, and we hope that will continue to be the case.”

China’s government also has drafted new legislation that Taiwanese officials say would give Beijing a pretext for using military force.

Mr. Powell said the United States is committed to a “one-China policy” and the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which commits the United States to providing defensive weapons to Taiwan and preventing the use of force by the mainland to reunite the island.

The United States is offering advanced arms to Taiwan to counter China’s growing military threat, which includes advanced warships, new submarines and the deployment of more than 600 short-range missiles within range of the island.

The Chinese white paper also accused the United States of violating a 1982 U.S.-China communique governing relations by selling arms to Taiwan. The joint communique calls for the United States to reduce weapons sales to Taiwan both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The Chinese report called the situation on the Taiwan Strait “grim” and accused Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian of “recklessly” challenging the status quo.

Taipei’s “separatist” activities pose the “biggest immediate threat” to China’s security and peace in the region, the report said.

Taiwan, an island formally known as the Republic of China and located 100 miles from the south China coast, was the last refuge of Chinese nationalist forces who fled the mainland during the civil war in 1949.

The Beijing report said the United States “continues to increase, quantitatively and qualitatively, its arms sales to Taiwan, sending a wrong signal to the Taiwan authorities,” a move that “does not serve a stable situation across the Taiwan Strait.”

In a related development, Russia’s government announced yesterday that it would hold its first joint military exercises with Chinese forces next year.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking in Moscow, said submarines and possibly strategic bombers would take part, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

“For the first time in history, we have agreed to hold quite a large military exercise together with China on Chinese territory in the second half of the year,” Mr. Ivanov said.

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