Hands off, Taiwanese tell China

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The Independent Online
BRANDISHING banners reading "Hands off Taiwan" and chanting "No reunification with China", about 20,000 Taiwanese marched through Taipei yesterday afternoon in the biggest rally yet against Peking's military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. A model missile and an effigy of Chinese president Jiang Zemin were hoisted in the air, as the demonstrators protested against a new round of exercises, due to start tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Peking and Washington have became embroiled in a new wrangle about who said what to whom concerning the likelihood of China attacking the island state. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Shen Guofang was quoted on all the main official media last night, denying that China had told US officials that it would not invade Taiwan. "These reports have no foundation," he said.

Last week, a Pentagon spokesman said that "in public and private conversations" China had assured the US that military action was not intended. Any such assurances would have referred only to the manoeuvres, whereas Shen's statement appeared designed as a restatement of China's threat to use force if Taiwan declares independence.

An official of Taiwan's National Security Bureau, Shih Tze-chung, yesterday said China appeared to be planning yet more exercises to "force us into talks" about reunification. Most analysts in Taipei expect Peking's harassment of Taiwan to continue long after next Saturday's presidential elections, because of China's determination that President Lee Teng-hui, who is expected to remain in power, should rein in his diplomatic activities. Peking is concerned that, if re-elected, Lee might launch a new round of "holiday diplomacy" visits.

The chairman of Taiwan's policy-making Mainland Affairs Council, Chang King-yu, yesterday demanded the military exercises stop "right away". His deputy, Kao Koong-lian, said there were no signs China was preparing to invade, but urged it to stop wasting money that could be better directed at its poor.

No appetite for war, page 12