Taiwan increased tensions with China yesterday when it abandoned a policy-making council on unification, angering Beijing and ignoring Washington's pleas to leave the largely symbolic body in place.
There are regular bouts of sabre-rattling on both sides of the Strait of Taiwan, but this is more serious than usual because Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian, went against US wishes in abolishing the National Unification Council, which for the past 15 years has been tasked with finding a route to unification.
Mr Chen said: "Taiwan has no intention of changing the status quo and firmly opposes any use of non-peaceful means that will cause the status quo to change," he said.
Beijing has considered Taiwan a renegade province since the self-ruled island split from the mainland after the civil war in 1949.
Mr Chen rejects Beijing's claims of sovereignty, taking the line that the Taiwanese must be allowed to choose their own path. He does consider independence from China an option.
Beijing was outraged and responded with a strongly worded statement from the Taiwan Affairs Office. Mr Chen was "escalating secessionist activities, which will inevitably result in a serious crisis in the Taiwan Strait and destroy peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," the statement said. "We'll never tolerate 'Taiwan independence' nor allow Taiwan secessionist activities to separate Taiwan from the motherland."
Significantly, it also said China would "exert its utmost effort and sincerity to achieve peaceful unification". The move comes just before China's annual parliament, the National People's Congress, meets at the weekend.Reuse content