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Taiwan Calls for Fresh Talks, Arms Control with China - 2004-10-10

Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, has called for a "new code of conduct" with mainland China. Taiwan's leader is asking for direct talks with Beijing on arms control and ways to avoid military confrontation. The Taiwanese president, known for his provocative stance toward China, urged Beijing to consider a new dialogue. At a National Day celebration Sunday, President Chen spoke to a cheering crowd. He said both sides should seriously consider arms control proposals, and take steps to reduce tensions.

The speech did not suggest specific proposals, but did point to a 1992 meeting as a model for new talks.

After the Communists won China's civil war in 1949, the Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan. Since then, Beijing has insisted that the self-ruled island across the narrow Taiwan Strait is part of China. China says any move by Taiwan toward independence would prompt a military invasion.

China's leaders have refused to meet with Taiwan, until it agrees to Beijing's "one-China" principle, which Taiwan has resisted.

President Chen's speech comes as both sides increase spending on new military hardware.

Taiwan says China has at least 600 ballistic missiles pointed across the straits that separate them, and is adding more each year. President Chen said Sunday that this is why he wants the Taiwan legislature to approve an $18 billion weapons package from the United States. China has blasted Taiwan and the United States for the proposed deal.

Overall, President Chen's national day speech was conciliatory. Earlier, he offered to demilitarize six small islands in the straits as a goodwill gesture. At the same time, the president did not say Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.

President Chen came to power in 2000, advocating a hard-line approach to Beijing, and is on record as supporting, though never declaring, formal independence from China and a new constitution.

Chinese leaders did not have an immediate response to the National Day address, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department praised the speech, saying it offered some creative ideas for reducing cross-strait tensions.