Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Taiwan Leader Unlikely to Give In

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Taiwan Leader Unlikely to Give In

Article excerpt

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's leader rankled Beijing and made Washington squirm by saying his government should be able to deal with China as a political equal. Although he's facing tremendous pressure to take back the statement, he'll probably stick to it.

President Lee Teng-hui relishes a good spat with China and has too much to lose by ditching his new claim that Taiwan is a sovereign state, not a local government that should be controlled by Beijing.

Taiwan has long been one of Beijing's biggest frustrations. Since 1949, the island 90 miles off China's eastern coast has resisted Communist rule. Beijing wants both sides to reunify now, but Taiwan wants to wait until China is more democratic and economically developed.

Two months ago, when Lee said the two sides should handle their affairs on a "special state-to-state basis," China thought it was part of a secret plan by the Taiwanese leader to break away permanently from the mainland -- a move Beijing has repeatedly threatened to use force to block.

Trying to get Lee to scrap his claim, China has used fiery rhetoric and has staged massive mock invasions of the island with warplanes, ships and thousands of troops. Adding to the pressure, Taiwan's biggest ally, the United States, has blamed Lee for needlessly stirring up trouble.

But chances are slim Lee will cave in to the pressure. With seven months left in his term, he seems to be focused on his historical legacy. Already, he's guaranteed a long chapter in Taiwan's history books for presiding over numerous reforms, including the first direct presidential election in 1996, which he won handily.

Now, Lee is standing up to China and demanding that Taiwan get the respect he thinks it deserves as an equal, sovereign state, not a breakaway province that should listen to Beijing. …

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