HONG KONG, China # China-Taiwan tensions are rising as Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian asserts the quasi-sovereign powers of the self-ruled island in the run-up to presidential polls next March.
Afraid that a high-decibel response would boost Chen’s election chances, Beijing has mainly focused on urging the U.S. to rein in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader’s “creeping independence” gambit.
Over the weekend, Chen reiterated that Taipei would hold a referendum in the near future to determine the construction of a nuclear power plant.
Beijing has opposed the move, saying it would serve as a dry run for a referendum on Taiwan’s statehood.
The Taiwan media have reported that Taiwan’ military forces would hold 33 rounds of war games over the rest of the year, some of which might be attended by American military advisers.
The exercises would include counter-invasion and missile drills.
A high-level delegation led by the Secretary-General of the Presidential Office, Chiou I-Jen, is in the United States to discuss matters including arms purchases.
It is understood Taipei is interested in Patriot anti-missile batteries and other sophisticated items to counter perceived threat from the estimated 500 missiles China’s People’s Liberation Army has massed along the Fujian Province coast.
On the diplomatic front, Taipei is due to open a quasi-official representative office in Slovakia next month.
And the president’s wife has just made a high-profile tour of Germany and the Vatican.
Chen himself is planning a visit to Central America as well as a “transit stop” in New York, where he hopes to deliver a speech to local politicians.
Diplomatic analysts in Beijing said the new leadership under President Hu Jintao had responded to these developments in a relative restrained manner.
Apart from fairly routine protests made by the Foreign Ministry and the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the analysts said senior cadres had refrained from making intimidating statements about the consequences of Chen’s pro-independence game-plan.
“Chen is upping the ante in his pro-independence moves to boost his popularity among native-Taiwanese voters in Taiwan,” said a Chinese source close to Beijing’s Taiwan policy-making establishment.
“The leadership knows it will be playing into Chen’s hands if it were to rattle the saber.”
Less than a week before the presidential elections in March 2000, then-premier Zhu Rongji delivered a tough warning to Taiwan voters by saying at a press conference that “a ballot for the DPP is a ballot for war.”
That threat was said to have added a few percentage points to Chen’s victory over challengers Lien Chan and James Soong, who are running against Chen on a joint ticket.
Political analysts in Beijing said the Hu leadership was focusing on the U.S. in the hope that Washington would help to rein in Chen’s separatist gambit.
A high-level delegation led by the TAO Director Chen Yunlin has just finished a tour of the U.S.
In meetings with senior U.S. officials, Chen Yunlin reportedly raised matters including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as well as President Chen’s forthcoming stop in New York.
Chen Yunlin also urged Washington to continue to express disapproval of any form of referendum to be held in the island.