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China warns against proposal for closer U.S.-Taiwan ties; Act's passage would have 'disastrous' effect on Sino-American relations


BEIJING -- Adoption by Washington of a proposal to enhance military ties with Taiwan would have a "disastrous" effect on U.S. relations with China, a leading government adviser warned yesterday.

"This would be an openly hostile act by the United States toward China," the adviser, Xu Shiquan, said of the proposed law in an interview. "Sino-American relations would plunge again to the bottom, and American interests would be seriously damaged." Xu is president of the Institute of Taiwan Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the leading government-run research group on Taiwanese affairs.

The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act would mandate closer military cooperation between the United States and Taiwan. The United States has not had a formal alliance with Taiwan since it switched diplomatic recognition to the mainland in 1979, but under the Taiwan Relations Act of the same year it has pledged to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself against attack.

The bill, which Clinton says is unneeded and overly provocative, passed in the House of Representatives by a huge margin Feb. 1. Its prospects in the Senate are unclear, but this week, after the administration said it would not sell Taiwan some of the advanced weapons it had requested, Republican senators vowed to press harder for the legislation.

Xu described Beijing's response to last month's presidential elections in Taiwan as "cool and restrained." But he held out little hope of easing cross-straits tensions unless Taiwan's president-elect, Chen Shui-bian, makes a change in basic policy and embraces the principle of "one China" under Beijing's ultimate authority.

Chen was long an advocate of formal independence for Taiwan. Beijing -- which considers the island a province separated by the civil war of the 1940s -- has said formal independence would be grounds for military intervention. But more recently, Chen has moderated this position, saying that a declaration of independence is unnecessary because Taiwan already enjoys effective sovereignty.

Since his election March 18, Chen has worked to avoid angering Beijing, saying he seeks peace and offering to negotiate an end to restrictions on commerce across the Taiwan Straits. To be his prime minister, he selected the departing defense minister, from the Nationalist Party, who opposes independence.

But Xu dismissed Chen's olive branches and expressed pessimism about any negotiations between Beijing and Taipei in the next few years.

"I don't think he is any closer to the one-China principle," Xu said of Chen. "He still insists that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign state and that 'one China' is not a principle, but an issue to talk about."

Beijing has given some breathing room to Chen, who takes office May 20, by promising to "listen to what he says and watch what he does." But Beijing has repeatedly stated that it will talk with his government only if Chen agrees that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.

Xu also predicted that Chen would find it difficult to make that leap, especially given his weak political position. And Xu offered no hope that Beijing would seek a compromise.

Beijing is anxious to see Taipei lift its restrictions on direct commerce and communications with the mainland, for example, but it will not take up Chen's offer to discuss even this practical matter, Xu said, without agreement on principles.

"If it's a question of opening internal links within one country, then we welcome it," he said. "If it's 'state-to-state' links, then that's a provocation, and we cannot accept it."

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