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Taiwan Protests Proposed Chinese Secession Law  - 2004-12-18

Taiwan angrily denounced a proposed anti-secession law being considered in Beijing. Officials in Taipei say the new law could provide mainland China with a legal pretext for a military assault on Taiwan.

Chinese news media said late Friday that Beijing will draft a new anti-secession law in the coming weeks, apparently aimed at reinforcing China's claim on the Taiwan.

Taiwan's pro-independence vice president Annette Lu denounced the secession law. Ms. Lu told reporters that Beijing is trying to establish a legal basis to justify a possible military invasion of Taiwan.

Beijing regards Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to invade if Taipei declares independence.

The island has been self-governed since splitting from the mainland in 1949 after a bloody civil war.

In response to Beijing's plan, U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher urged both sides to show restraint and avoid aggravating an already tense relationship.

"We've spoken to China and we've talked to some people in Taiwan and our view is we think it's important for both sides to focus on dialogue," said Richard Boucher. "It's not time to harden positions or take unilateral stances."

The proposed legislation comes just days after Taiwan's pro-independence forces were beaten in a parliamentary election.

The election was seen as a referendum on Taiwan President Chen Shui-Bian's agenda of establishing a more separate identity for the island.

Beijing has warned Mr. Chen's proposals could precipitate an attack from the mainland.

Political scientists say Beijing could see the election result as a vindication of their hard-line approach to Taiwan affairs.

Sheila Smith works for the East-West Center in Hawaii.

"Many people suspect this is going to push Beijing to be more hard-line," said Sheila Smith. "It's not going to make them relax. It's going to make them think the hard-line stance is making in-roads in Taiwan."

The proposed law also appears likely to cover Tibet and Xinjiang. China took control of Tibet in the 1950s, and Tibetan activists have long called for either independence or greater autonomy for the region. In Xinjiang, some members of the region's ethnic Uighur population have been pushing for independence.

Chinese media said parliament will review the new law before the end of the year and could pass the measure in March.