Chinese sheathe sabres - for now

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The Independent Online
China yesterday wound up its war games in the Taiwan Strait, saying the People's Liberation Army had the "determination, the methods and the capability to safeguard reunification of the motherland".

While the intimidating rhetoric continued, the Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, tried to ease international criticism by denying that more than two weeks of manoeuvres and missile tests had been designed to obstruct the island's progress towards democracy. "Some people on the island of Taiwan say we are obstructing their engaging in democracy. This kind of remark is completely without foundation," Mr Qian was reported as telling the visiting UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Peking's propaganda machine has been hard-pressed rewriting history in its efforts to explain the landslide 54-per- cent victory of Lee Teng- hui in Taiwan's first democratic presidential election on Saturday.

With the result widely seen as a humiliation, Peking is trying to save face, claiming it had dealt a "telling blow" against "splittism". However, it has dropped personal attacks on Mr Lee, who for the past 10 months has been subject to a torrent of abuse for his alleged pro- independence moves.

Chang King-yu, head of the Mainland Affairs Council, said yesterday that Taiwan needed "a period of observation". He called for a resumption of the low-level, semi-official talks that China froze last July in its rage at Mr Lee's foreign diplomacy. At the weekend, China's foreign ministry spokesman said the "door to negotiations" was still open so long as Taiwan accepted reunification.

The island is waiting to see if the PLA announces any new exercises. A Taiwanese security official said the mainland may hold manoeuvres inland in the south-eastern province of Fujian. The National Security Bureau director, Yin Tsung-wen, said this would be less threatening than the recent sea-based exercises and missile tests.

Zhang Wannian, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, the highest military body, said yesterday: "We will take all measures, including military measures, to safeguard firmly reunification of the motherland. The success of the exercises shows the quality of our armed forces is excellent."

r Hong Kong - The Democrat party vowed to fight China's dismantling of the elected legislature next year, Reuter reports. Martin Lee, the party leader,said they were considering taking the battle to the courts.