Despite harassment and threats from China, the ``Goddess of Democracy'' radio ship plans to sail from Taiwan by tomorrow and broadcast liberal messages to the mainland. The voyage is the boldest attempt yet by exiled dissidents to revive their call for freedom in China since Beijing's hard-line leadership crushed peaceful protests for democracy last June.
Beijing has not ruled out using force to silence the vessel and halt what it calls a breach of international law and a venture in ``propaganda aimed at overthrowing the Chinese government.''
As if to emphasize China's scathing verbal assaults on the ship and on the Chinese exiles who helped launch it, a mainland submarine shadowed the ``Goddess'' last week as it approached Taiwan.
Taiwan authorities have coolly responded to the ship in public. While allowing the vessel to dock and take on food and fuel, Nationalist officials have said the ship will not be allowed to return if it makes the broadcasts. Taipei also says it will defend the ship from an attack within Taiwan's territorial waters but not on the high seas.
Taipei is reluctant to set back a steady rapprochement with the mainland by overtly backing what Beijing calls a ``pirate'' ship on a ``subversive'' mission, Western diplomats say.
The ship's crew intends to begin broadcasting a program of news, music, and political commentary by Friday, or immediately after the ship leaves Taiwan's territorial waters, says Christine Dupont, spokeswoman for the 19 publications from around the world sponsoring the voyage.
The crew plans to broadcast around-the-clock in both short- and medium-wave, she says.