China turned up the heat on Taiwan's President-elect, Chen Shui-bian, yesterday, saying disaster and confrontation were in store if the island rejected its "one China" principle, a position Chen has ruled out.
However, Tang Shubei, a senior Chinese envoy, appeared to leave room for compromise by saying that Peking would give Taiwan equal status in any talks under the "one China" principle.
The People's Republic of China, founded by the the Communists in 1949, insists that there is one China and that Taiwan is a rebel province.
The mainland's official Xinhua news agency quoted Mr Tang as saying that some people in Taiwan had used words like "peace", "goodwill" and "harmony" when speaking of relations with China.
He was referring to public comments by Mr Chen, the leader of a pro-independence party, who swept the Nationalists from power in elections last month but who has been seeking to reach out to China.
"But if they do not recognise that Taiwan is part of China and the one China principle, this will lead to disaster instead of peace, confrontation instead of harmony, and hostility instead of goodwill," Mr Tang said.
The news agency corrected an earlier report that translated Mr Tang's quote as "war" instead of "disaster".
Mr Tang, vice-chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, repeated a standard formula that Chinese people would sacrifice their "lives and blood" if Taiwan declared independence or if it wrote into its constitution that China and Taiwan were two separate states.
Outgoing President Lee Teng-hui infuriated Peking by insisting that China must deal with Taiwan as a sovereign equal - a position that China reviles as the "two states theory".
Mr Chen has ruled out Peking's definition of one China but has said he was willing to discuss the issue as long as it was not a precondition to talks.
One way out of what seems to be an impossible impasse would be a broader definition of one China, or an acceptance by both sides that they have different interpretations.
In setting terms for talks, Mr Tang adopted a soft tone that seemed designed to satisfy Taiwan's need for a place of equality at the negotiating table.
"Cross-strait talks are not talks between the central government and local, they are not talks between the government of the People's Republic of China and Taiwan local authorities, but equal talks under the one China principle," Mr Tang said.
Mr Chen, meanwhile, sought to allay any fears of rising tension with China, saying the island's security service and the US had assured him there has been no unusual Chinese military activity.
"Everybody can rest assured. Routine drills by the Chinese Communists are frequent, especially every April and May," Mr Chen told a crowd of supporters in the northern county of Hsinchu.
A Defence Ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday that China had intensified training for bomber and jet fighter crews and that there was unusual naval activity recently near the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands in the East China Sea. Taiwan stocks fell heavily on Wednesday and Taiwanese officials have been scrambling to contain the damage.
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