Chinese PM leaves for US today
Divisive issues crowd China’s agenda
BEIJING: On the eve of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to the United States, divisive issues crowd the agenda, as tensions over Taiwan are mounting and incarcerated dissidents trigger renewed attention.
Wen will leave on Sunday for his most important foreign trip since assuming office in March amid strident rhetoric on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, kept up by a People’s Daily editorial.
“If the Taiwan authorities and separatists collaborate to seek independence, the Chinese government and people will spare no efforts to maintain national sovereignty and territorial integrity at any cost,” the editorial warned.
Wen himself will be sure to raise the issue of Taiwan during his talks, as China has made clear it is worried the United States is encouraging the island to launch ever bolder bids for independence.
The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s communist party, used its Saturday editorial to blast Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian for a “dangerous provocation” over his plan for a “defensive referendum”. Chen’s proposal for a plebiscite in March is not in accordance with a previous pledge not to promote a referendum to change the status quo, the paper said in its overseas edition.
While reports of the planned “defensive referendum” have circulated for days, details about what exactly the Taiwan voters will be asked about have only started to emerge. President Chen said in an interview with The New York Times published Friday that the referendum will be to demand China withdraw ballistic missiles targeting the island and promise not to use force against it.
While neither side of the Taiwan Straits appeared ready to back down, US Secretary of State Colin Powell told journalists he did not consider the situation across the Taiwan Straits “alarming.”
“Both sides will realize where their interests lie and be careful about what they say,” he said Friday.
Powell, who had just got off the phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, reiterated that the United States does not support independence for Taiwan.
Back in China, dissident Wang Bingzhang, who is serving a life term in a Chinese jail, was planning a hunger strike to coincide with Wen’s US visit, a rights group said.
Wang declared his intention Friday to his brother Wang Bingwu, who saw him for 30 minutes at Shaoguan prison in southern Guangdong province, according to Washington-based organization Worldrights. Wang, who lived in the United States for more than a decade prior to his detention, said the hunger strike would be to protest his “cruel and inhumane solitary confinement at the hands of local Chinese prison officials.”
Friends and rights groups claim Wang was kidnapped by Chinese agents from Vietnam near the China border, where he tried to meet with Chinese labor activists, and was brought into the country.
He was found guilty of providing intelligence to Taiwan between 1982 and 1990 and obtaining “secret military material illegally” in exchange for money, and was given a life sentence in February.
Worldrights urged President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Powell to protest “the brutality of an arbitrary judicial system that defines the promotion of democracy and human rights as a felonious crime against society.”
In another sign that human rights are never far off the Sino-US agenda, eight senators sent a letter to President Bush urging him to raise the case of Yang Jianli, another detained US-based dissident.
Forty-year-old Yang, a US resident on a Chinese blacklist of people barred from entry, was detained in April last year after he traveled to China on a friend’s passport in an attempt to observe ongoing labor unrest. He was subject to a brief trial in Beijing in August, but is still awaiting a verdict on charges espionage and illegal entry. —AFP