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China calls for French help on Taiwan
( 2004-01-18 22:46) (Xinhua/Chinadaily)

China hopes that France will support its stand on the Taiwan issue, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry official Monday, on the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao's upcoming visit to France.

China appreciates the French government's upholding of the one-China principle, and hopes France will oppose independence moves by Taiwan authorities, Liu Xinghai, deputy director of the Western European Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry.

President Hu Jintao is scheduled to start his four-nation state visit from next Monday, with France as the first stop.

The smooth relations between China and France were disrupted by French sales of warships and fighter planes to Taiwan in the early 1990s despite China's repeated protests. The two sides signed a communique in 1994 in which France pledged it would no longer sell arms to Taiwan, putting relations back to normal.

China and France declared the establishment of a full partnership relationship in 1997 when French President Jacques Chirac visited China. The two sides have since maintained close relations in political, economic and cultural areas.

Liu warned at the briefing that Taiwan authorities were trying to separate China under the disguise of a referendum, another step towards Taiwan independence.

The attitude of the Chinese government on that issue is clear-cut, and it sticks to the principle of "peaceful reunification" and "one country, two systems", and would never tolerate Taiwan independence.

China needs French support on the issue because France is a big power and can exert important influence with the international community. It is also an important member of the European Union and a strategic cooperative partner of China, said the official.

The United States and some other Western powers have stated clearly earlier that they support the one-China policy, and oppose Taiwan independence and referenda.

Experts: Taipei closer to triggering crisis

Despite seemingly bland ballot language, Taiwan leader's Chen Shui-bian's referendum plan threatens to trigger heightened tension and even a crisis in cross-Straits relations, mainland analysts say.

Wu Nengyuan, director of the Institute of Modern Taiwan Studies under the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences, described the so-called "defensive referendum" as a virtual vote on reunification vs independence with a sinister motive.

"Contrasting with Chen's creeping pro-independence moves in the past, the proposed referendum aimed at clearing way for his splittist scheme will prove to be more risky and provocative," he told China Daily Sunday.

On Friday Chen announced the two-part content of the March 20 ballot which coincides with "presidential" elections.

Voters will be asked whether the island should beef up its anti-missile defences if the mainland refuses to withdraw missiles and renounce the threat of war against Taiwan. The referendum also includes an option for Taiwan to open talks with the mainland.

"More radical separatist steps may ensue from the vote to drag cross-Straits situation into an uncontrolled state," Wu said.

A planned islandwide election itself is meant to fan anti-mainland sentiment among the Taiwanese public and challenge the bottom line of the Chinese mainland, he added.

"It can only propel the mainland to get fully prepared to crush any separatist activities of the island."

On Saturday, the planned referendum drew firm opposition from Beijing, which condemned it as "one-sided provocation" to peace and stability in bilateral ties.

Chen is "stubbornly promoting the so-called referendum which provokes confrontation between the people across the Straits and will also sabotage cross-Straits relations," the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council said in a written statement.

It added the referendum "is a one-sided provocation to the stability and peace of the Taiwan Straits and a bid to prepare for Taiwan independence".

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan also said on Saturday that Chen's move, under the guise of promoting peace and democracy, has gone against the immediate interests of Taiwanese people and ignored objections from the international community.

He urged the United States to remain steadfast on its explicit opposition to Taipei's pro-independence moves.

On the island, the opposition parties still consider the proposed plebiscite unnecessary and illegal.

Chen is calling the "defensive referendum" under a new law that allows him to do so -- but only when Taiwan's "sovereignty" faces an imminent threat.

Opposition parties say there is none at present.

In the meantime, Taiwanese people are hardly convinced of the need for the March 20 referendum after the island's leader announced the precise wording of the questions, according to an opinion poll released Saturday.

In a survey conducted by cable station TVBS late Friday, 53 per cent of respondents said there was no need for a referendum on an anti-missile defence, while only 30 per cent said the vote was necessary.

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