Report of Taiwan missile test marks rising tensions with China

Hot on the heels of a dust-up between Taiwan's pro-independence president and China's government, a new report says that last month Taiwan tested a missile capable of striking Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The Daily Telegraph of Britain reports that Taiwan tested the missile in February, but the tests only became public knowledge this week thanks to a Taiwanese newspaper report.

President Chen Shui-bian personally attended the launch of the Hsiungfeng (Brave Wind) 2E missiles last month, according to the United Daily News.

The missiles have a range of over 600 miles, bringing large areas of eastern and southern China within range.

The government refused to confirm the report, but it was published at a time of heightened tension between Beijing and the island, which has been ruled separately from the mainland since 1949 and which China regards as a renegade province awaiting reunification.

The Telegraph notes that the Taiwanese government is concerned about the "rapidly increasing number of missiles," thought to be nearing 1,000, stationed in the Chinese province of Fujian immediately across the Taiwan Strait.

The report of the missile test comes days after Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian's speech over the weekend, in which he made "unusually strong pro-independence remarks," reports The China Post of Taiwan.

"Taiwan wants independence, wants name rectification, wants a new Constitution, and wants development," Chen said at a dinner in Taipei celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), a non-profit organization promoting Taiwan's cause. ...

Chen said Taiwan is a sovereign state independent of China, and its independence is Taiwan people's common goal. The pursuit of Taiwan's independence is not a dangerous regression but the noblest undertaking," he said.

Taiwan politics remain divided between the pro-independence "Pan-Green" parties, of which Mr. Chen is a leader, and the "Pan-Blue" parties that favor reunification with the mainland. When Chen took office in 2000, he promised not to change the status quo between Taiwan and China, and not to seek Taiwanese independence, though he has frequently repeated his desire for such.

Chen's speech brought swift condemnation from China. Reuters reports that China's Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement that the speech "again demonstrates that Chen is a politician with no credibility." Meanwhile, Xinhua reports that General Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, said that, were Taiwan to declare independence, the Chinese military would respond and "effectively perform [its] glorious mission of safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Voice of America reports that the US, which does not officially recognize the Taiwanese government, though it does sell it weapons, also expressed concern about Chen's speech, calling it "unhelpful."

"President Chen's fulfillment of his commitments is a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship and of his ability to protect Taiwan's interests, its relations with others, and to maintain peace and stability in the [Taiwan] Strait," said [State Department spokesman] Sean McCormack. "Rhetoric that could raise doubts about these commitments is unhelpful."

Under questioning McCormack later said specifically that U.S. officials consider the Taiwanese leader's latest comments unhelpful, and expressed hope that amid the uproar he will make clear that he intends to adhere to previous commitments to discard independence rhetoric.

The Taipei Times notes that Mr. McCormack's use of the term "unhelpful" has special significance in the context of China and Taiwan.

The word "unhelpful" took on a special meaning in US-Taiwan relations after the State Department criticized China's passage of its "Anti-secession" Law in 2005 as unhelpful.

That characterization raised hackles in Taiwan, where it was felt that Washington had been too tame on a law that legitimized a military attack on Taiwan whenever the powers in Beijing felt it was justified.

However, Chen's office insists that the speech does not represent a change in policy, reports Bloomberg. David Lee, a spokesman for Taiwan's presidential office, said Chen's comments "are his observations of the people's feelings. There's no conflict between Chen's words yesterday about what Taiwan wants, and his 2000 pledge [not to seek independence]."

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