China will not respond to Chen’s ‘provocations’

By Christopher Bodeen BEIJING, AP

China’s legislators are giving Taiwan’s independence-leaning president the silent treatment.

Outspoken responses to statements made by Chen Shui-bian 10 days ago asserting Taiwan independence from China would only play into his hands, encouraging more provocations, members of the National People’s Congress said Monday.

“We’re keeping quiet,” said Chen Yunying, a congress delegate and professor of special education who is married to a prominent Taiwanese defector. “We hope that will keep him from doing these sorts of things.”

The reticence marks a turnabout from the usual tit-for-tat rhetoric China and Taiwan engage in and that often has served to deepen the 58-year-old split between the communist-run mainland and the democratic island. The annual meeting of the Communist Party-dominated congress in Beijing has often been a platform for airing heated, nationalistic views.

On March 4, the day before the congress opened, Chen told a pro-independence group in Taipei that Taiwan should be independent and have a new constitution. The latter demand has been a sore point for Beijing, and the timing and content of Chen’s remarks were seen by opposition politicians in Taiwan as an attempt by Chen to stir controversy.

But in response, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a standard condemnation. Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing passed on an opportunity to criticize Chen when asked about him at a news conference. Though Beijing has long detested Chen for his pro-independence stance, it now sees him as increasingly marginalized by plummeting popularity and corruption scandals involving his family. Chen has less than two years left in his second term and China has been at pains not to be seen as meddling in the island’s politics, a practice that has in past driven Taiwanese voters to support candidates opposed by China.

Meanwhile, Chen’s government keeps its anti-China message alive with rallies and rhetoric. Last year, the island marked its first “Anti Aggression Day” to protest China’s threats to attack.

On Monday, Defense Minister Lee Jye accused China of stepping up training for a possible attack using planes and helicopters to drop troops on the island.

Lee told a legislative panel that the Chinese army held more than 30 military exercises last year aimed at invading Taiwan and boosted training for landing on the island by parachute and helicopters, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported.

A Defense Ministry official confirmed the report. The report did not say how much of an increase last year’s training represented compared to 2005.

Despite the saber-rattling and political chill, business ties between the sides are increasingly robust and both sides have quietly torn down many of the barriers to investment and travel between them. Taiwan has begun permitting Chinese tour groups to visit and China’s legislature this year is to begin considering strengthening guarantees for Taiwanese investment in the mainland.

Protections are especially important because political uncertainties unnerve investors, said Hu Youqing. Hu, like professor Chen, belongs to the congress’s Taiwan delegation, comprised of prominent Chinese citizens who were born on Taiwan or the offspring of immigrants from the island.

“A lot of Taiwanese businessmen I know often ask whether their investments might suffer because of things Chen Shui bian does or says,” said Hu, a professor of modern literature.