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Taiwan Digs in Heels With China

July 22, 1999

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Showing no inclination of backing down in the standoff with China, President Lee Teng-hui said today that Beijing must gradually come to terms with his affirmation of Taiwan’s statehood.

Lee said his recent controversial statement, that Taiwan and China must deal with one another on a ``state-to-state″ basis, was intended to inject a ``positive and friendly meaning″ into dealings between the sides, even though he understood Beijing would find it ``hard to accept at first.″

``If they can sit down and think coolly about this, they ought to gradually be able to accept it,″ Lee’s office quoted him as telling a delegation of visiting Philippine lawmakers.

Lee’s latest remarks didn’t appear to offer any room for concessions to China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary. Beijing has taken Lee’s new comment on their ties as a challenge to its ``one-China policy″ _ pushing the sides towards crisis or even war.

Beijing kept up its rhetoric today, with the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily saying in a front-page commentary: ``Lee Teng-hui is doomed to failure and those who follow him should understand they are heading into a blind alley from which there is no escape.″

The China Youth Daily carried a front-page report on exercises by the People’s Liberation Army in the northeastern coastal waters of the Yellow Sea.

Beijing’s fighting words have raised concerns in Washington, prompting the White House to dispatch Richard Bush, who heads the semiofficial organization handling relations between Washington and Taipei. He is expected in Taiwan today.

Bush told Taiwan’s TVBS news network while transferring planes in San Francisco that he would be discussing Taiwan’s relations with China.

``Cross-Straits relations will be one issue that I’ll want to exchange views on, but as far as the substance of my conversations, I can’t comment,″ Bush said. His visit follows remarks by President Clinton on Wednesday reaffirming U.S. demands for a peaceful resolution of any conflicts over Taiwan.

Clinton said he did not accept Lee’s declaration on Taiwanese statehood, but Foreign Minister Jason Hu sought to put a positive spin on Clinton’s remarks. He said Clinton had effectively confirmed that Washington would retain its commitments to Taiwan rather than retaliate over the latest crisis.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth is traveling to China to reassert Washington’s insistence that any conflict over Taiwan be resolved peacefully.

Taiwan has been shaken by reports that Washington was considering canceling the sale of early warning aircraft and restricting other military and official contacts to air its displeasure over Lee’s challenge to the status quo.

Amid widespread concerns Taiwan’s relations with Washington could deteriorate, officials sought to reassure the public that traditional U.S. support for Taiwan remains strong.

Lee’s comments have found broad popular support, despite tensions with Beijing rising to their highest levels since 1996, when China staged threatening military displays in a show of anger over Taiwan’s attempts to raise its international profile.

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