Thousands of Taiwanese protest China's anti-succession law
Agencies, Kaohsiung, Taiwan/Beijing
More than 15,000 protesters marched in Taiwan on Sunday, denouncing China's planned anti-secession law and vowing to fight what they claim is Beijing's attempt to force this self-ruled, democratic island to unify with the mainland.
"Taiwanese stand up, oppose China's hegemony," the protesters chanted as they marched, wearing red headbands, through Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung.
Taiwan-China tensions have risen recently over Beijing's plan to pass the anti-secession legislation, which Taiwanese leaders say could set the stage for an attack on the island.
The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing insists Taiwan is part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to attack if Taipei formalizes its de facto independence or drags its feet on unification talks.
Sunday's procession through Kaohsiung, a major seaport, was led by mothers pushing strollers, with the toddlers in them waving Taiwan flags.
"We're showing our determination to safeguard our homes," said Su Chin-chiang, chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a pro- independence party that organized the demonstration.
He said 50,000 people were expected to take part in the demonstration, but police estimated the crowd at slightly more than 15,000.
China's legislature, the National People's Congress, is expected to pass the anti-secession legislation during a 10-day session that began on Saturday.
Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, whose party is allied with the Solidarity Union, did not join the protest -- apparently to avoid provoking Beijing. Taiwanese lawmakers have urged China to withdraw the proposed law to avoid further straining relations.
Former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, a strong supporter of formal independence for the island, told protesters the proposed Chinese law is unjustified since Taiwan is not a part of China.
"They use anti-secession as an excuse to try to swallow up Taiwan," Lee said. "You have a choice between becoming masters of your own democratic country, or being enslaved in the communist country."
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing struck a hawkish tone on Taiwan on Sunday but sought to calm jittery nerves over his country's growing global clout, saying China was not a threat to anyone.
Disputes with the United States and Japan should be resolved through dialogue, Li said but made clear China would brook no interference in its drive to reunite with Taiwan, the self- governing island it claims as its own.
Japan and China are at odds over everything from territorial claims to lingering wartime resentment, and Beijing's human rights record and weapons proliferation are perennial issues with Washington. But last month both Japan and the United States listed security in the Taiwan Strait as a common concern.
"Any practice of putting Taiwan directly or indirectly into the scope of Japan-U.S. security cooperation constitutes an encroachment on China's sovereignty and interference in internal affairs," Li told a news conference during the annual parliament session.
"The Chinese government and people are firmly against such activity."
The law has caused alarm over the prospect of heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait. The United States, which has pledged to help defend the island, fears being drawn into a potential conflict that would compromise its interests in China.
But Li stressed that its purpose was to promote peaceful reunification and he played down concerns that China's growing economic might would lead to belligerent diplomacy.
"It is a very small number of people who are still advocating China as a threat. The theories those people spread are unfounded and unscientific," said Li, pointing out that U.S. defense spending last year was 18 times that of China.