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Taiwan Nationalists Careful on China

August 29, 1999

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Taiwan’s Nationalists Sunday nominated Vice President Lien Chan to succeed President Lee Teng-hui and moved delicately to back Lee’s controversial new affirmation of Taiwanese sovereignty without stoking a war of words with Beijing.

Debate at a weekend party convention was lively between Lee supporters and the party’s more conservative pro-China wing, who call the president’s July 9 call for ``state-to-state″ relations with China an unnecessary provocation of the mainland.

Ultimately, the issue was pushed to the sidelines as the badly divided party sought to convey the appearance of unity behind the ticket of Lien and vice presidential running mate Vincent Siew.

Lien, who has been seen as slow to capitalize on the positive public response to Lee’s gambit, echoed but did not specifically mention Lee’s call for parity with China in his acceptance address.

``If only China were to accord us respect and equal treatment, there would be nothing we couldn’t negotiate, no area in which we couldn’t cooperate,″ Lien told more than 1,000 party delegates gathered at Taipei’s International Conference Center.

Taiwan wants ``equality, not enmity; symmetry, not opposition″ in relations with China, Lien said.

Lien was running unopposed and his nomination to seek the presidency in next March’s polls was a foregone conclusion.

But the gathering also displayed deep divisions among the Nationalist’s leadership over the succession to Lee, with the marked absence of several top leaders who have either been cold-shouldered by the Lien camp or thrown in their lot with Nationalist renegade James Soong’s rival presidential campaign.

The friction among party rivals largely overshadowed discussion of Lee’s statement on China relations, which has infuriated the mainland and drawn concern from Washington over increased military tensions.

Lee’s declaration scrapped language used in the past that described the sides more ambiguously as equal ``political entities,″ a move he said would help strengthen Taiwan’s position ahead of talks with China touching on their political status.

China saw it as a move toward formal independence and renewed its threat to use force to block such a development. China, from which Taiwan split politically amid civil war in 1949, considers the island’s leaders the illegitimate government of a breakaway province.

Overall though, party support for Lee’s statement was ``very clear″ and a paragraph backing it appeared in the party’s political mission statement to be adopted at the close of the congress, Nationalist Secretary General John Chang was quoted as saying Taiwan’s mass market China Times.

But a separate draft resolution urging constitutional changes firming up Taiwan’s sovereignty was eliminated to avoid ``speculation by the outside world,″ Chang was quoted saying by the reports.

Government officials have said their basic policies toward China _ including eventual reunification with the mainland _ remain unchanged and have said they would not alter the island’s laws or constitution to reflect Lee’s statement.

Update hourly