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News Update
05-03-05, 20:34
China plays down Taiwan war threat

By Mure Dickie and Richard McGregor in Beijing

March 4 2005

Chinese president Hu Jintao on Friday stressed Beijing's desire for peaceful reunification with Taiwan, saying “flesh-and-blood brothers” could solve their problems without resorting to war.

Mr Hu's conciliatory remarks came as China's National People's Congress (NPC) prepared to pass an anti-secession law condemned by Taipei as an attempt to provide a legal basis for military action against Taiwan. The congress will also approve a rise of 12.6 per cent in China's defence budget, highlighting the country's rapidly growing military strength. It will be the latest in a series of substantial increases. Beijing is keen to ease concerns that its anti-secession law is part of a tougher approach towards Taiwan, with officials dismissing suggestions it might include trigger-points for war.

Mr Hu, in comments carried by state media, said Beijing wanted to work for closer ties across the Taiwan Strait. “People yearn for peace and the nation needs stability,” he said. “As long as there is even a thread of hope for peaceful reunification we will increase our efforts a hundredfold to achieve it.” He offered no concession on Beijing's insistence that Taiwan accept that it is part of “One China” before talks between the two governments can resume. Such a move would be seen by many in Taipei as tantamount to capitulation.

China, which backs its claims to sovereignty over Taiwan with the threat of military action, says the anti-secession law is a response to moves towards formal independence by Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's president.

Beijing would never tolerate independence for Taiwan “under any name or by any means”, Mr Hu said.

Fears of a conflict have heightened concerns in the US, the final guarantor of Taiwan's security, over the rapid development of China's 2.3m-strong People's Liberation Army.

A senior US State Department official said the Bush administration had expressed its growing concerns to China over its military build-up as well as the anti-secession law.

Tom Lantos, a veteran Democratic congressman, said relations with China were extremely positive but the US needed to tell its “friends in Beijing” that the anti-secession law was aggressive and counter-productive.

He also warned the European Union of a “horrendous” reaction from Congress should it decide to lift its arms embargo on China. Lifting the embargo could create a new source of advanced weapons for China, which already buys arms from Russia and Israel, critics say. China's military modernisation is driven by rapid economic growth, a process underlined by the announcement on Friday that the defence budget would rise in 2005 by 12.6 per cent to Rmb248bn ($30bn).

Shi Yinhong, of Beijing's Renmin University, said military power could be the critical issue in transforming US perceptions of China from economic partner to potential threat.