Invasion threat as China tries to warn Taiwan off separatist election candidate

Click to follow

China threw threats of imminent invasion into the tense stand-off with Taiwan yesterday in a last attempt to steer voters away from a presidential candidate who Peking fears may declare independence.

The fierce ultimatums did not carry the weight of Wednesday's warnings from Premier Zhu Rongji, as they were delivered by academics, not officials, but Peking's intention to heap pressure on Taiwan's voters was clear. "The timetable is in the hands of the mainland as well as in the hands of Taiwan's new leader and Taiwanese voters," said Xu Bodong, a professor at Peking's Union University, and one of seven Taiwan experts assembled by China's cabinet for a news conference.

"If a Taiwan candidate is selected who supports Taiwan's independence then [the resolution of the problem] will not be a matter of a few weeks, but a matter of a few hours."

China has been working frantically to steer Taiwanese voters away from presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian since he unexpectedly emerged as a possible victor in tomorrow'selections on the island. Peking fears Chen and his opposition Democratic Progressive Party could move towards official independence for Taiwan and insists it will take the island by force should such a situation arise.

Peking has also issued warnings of military force against the island if efforts to open reunification talks drag on "indefinitely". Asked how long this "indefinite" phase would be, the academics said the time period depended on who won the election. If the winner is "for peaceful reunification, it could be longer. But if you are moving towards Taiwan independence, it's hard to say. It could be three to five years or there could be a change within 24 hours," said Li Jiaquan, a research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

According to the South China Morning Post, Peking's all-powerful politburo is planning an emergency session today and tomorrow to thrash out a response to Taiwan should Chen win. Premier Zhu has already warned voters that their decision is critical and they will "have no opportunity to regret". In 1996, during Taiwan's last presidential elections, China launched a series of military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in a largely unsuccessful bid to influence voters.