02/04/2008, 00.00
CHINA – TAIWAN
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Beijing warns Taipei that independence would come at a heavy price

Mainland China reacts to Taiwan’s announced pro-independence referendum with a warning of possible military action in accordance with a 2005 law. Experts believe the warning is directed at the Washington as well. The US is in fact required by law to help the island in case of attack. President Chen visits the Spratly Islands which are claimed by six different countries.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Beijing has warned that Taipei will pay a heavy price if it holds a referendum on UN membership in the name of Taiwan on March 22 as announced last Friday. Under a mainland law passed in 2005, Beijing is obliged to take any action, including the use of force to attack, if the Taipei pursues formal independence.

“The Chen Shui-bian authorities will definitely have to pay a heavy price for clinging obstinately to their own course and making reckless moves,” said a statement by the ruling Communist Party's Taiwan Work Office and the cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office.

“Beijing has sent a clear-cut message to Taiwan, the United States and the world that it takes this issue very, very seriously,” said Andrew Yang Nien-dzu, of the Taipei-based Chinese Council of Advanced Studies.

“Beijing is concerned most about this issue, taking it even more seriously than their concern over whether the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party or pro-reunification Kuomintang would succeed in the upcoming presidential elections,” he added.

The reference to the United States is deliberate because of the Taiwan Relations Act passed by the US Congress which authorises the US government to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”

Still the current US government opposes the attempt by Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party administration to gain international recognition for Taiwan’s independence. Like Beijing Washington has repeatedly called on the Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to respect the status quo.

In the meantime Chen has visited the Spratly Islands, a group of small islands or reefs surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially rich in gas and oil deposits that are claimed by mainland China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan.

Despite protests by several of these countries, Taiwan reportedly began building a 1,150-metre-long runway on the fortified Taiping Islet in mid-2006. It is nearly complete.

Taiwanese Defence Ministry said that Mr Chen’s visit to the Spratly Islands is a move aimed at underscoring Taipei's claim to the disputed group.

By contrast Vietnam and the Philippines reacted to Chen’s visit in a press release saying that it represents a serious violation of their sovereignty.

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