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Saturday, March 26, 2005

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > China's Hard Line Stirs Throng in Taiwan

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > China's Hard Line Stirs Throng in TaiwanMarch 27, 2005
China's Hard Line Stirs Throng in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan, March 26 - Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese marched Saturday afternoon to denounce Beijing in one of the largest political demonstrations ever here, the clearest sign yet of how China's antisecession law has poisoned relations across the Taiwan Strait.

The size of the demonstration showed how much the political landscape has changed since the Communist Party-controlled National People's Congress in Beijing approved a law on March 14 calling for the use of "nonpeaceful means" to halt any Taiwanese attempt to declare independence from the mainland. Even some supporters of the opposition Nationalist Party here, which backs closer relations with the mainland, joined the march, although the party's leaders did not.

"In the past, I didn't understand the emerging situation across the Taiwan Strait - it seems that war across the Taiwan Strait will happen at any time," said Sue Rong-yin, 24, a pharmacology student who described herself as a staunch Nationalist Party supporter who had never before joined a political protest.

Politicians and analysts are not nearly as pessimistic about the prospects for conflict. But passage of the antisecession law has brought a halt to the honeymoon that Taiwan and China enjoyed over the winter.

Beijing's official New China News Agency criticized the march before it began, carrying a prominent article on Saturday morning contending that Taiwanese advocates of independence "malevolently distorted" the antisecession law.

Mainland lawyers drafted the law last summer, in response to fears that President Chen Shui-bian might declare independence. But then the Nationalist Party did unexpectedly well in elections in December.

Mr. Chen responded to those elections with overtures to Beijing. Over Chinese New Year in late January and early February, Taiwan and China allowed the first direct flights since the Nationalists came here after losing China's civil war in 1949.

On Feb. 24, Mr. Chen concluded a surprise alliance with the most pro-Beijing party here, prompting a half-dozen of his more strongly pro-independence advisers to quit. The pact helped him increase his influence in the legislature, but polls showed a sharp drop in support for both parties and a steep rise in the number of voters not attracted to any party.

In the demonstration on Saturday, an event that showed the president's talent for political theater, protesters were encouraged to bring pets and children as they marched under light clouds down 10 routes to converge in front of the Presidential Palace. Mr. Chen and his staff wrote a song for the occasion, set to the tune of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," with lyrics in the local dialect like, "How many rocky roads must the people of Taiwan walk, before really achieving democracy?"

Mr. Chen joined the march, breaking a tradition of sitting presidents not taking part in political protests.

Even before the rally, some Nationalist Party officials dismissed it as a carnival. Alex Tsai, a senior Nationalist lawmaker, said his party would press on with plans to send a delegation to Beijing on Tuesday. The Nationalists are preparing for their chairman, Lien Chan, to visit the mainland this summer, which would make him the first Nationalist leader to do so since the end of the civil war.

But that strategy carries political risks. Another Nationalist Party supporter in the crowd, Mickey Shi, a 23-year-old student who also had never been to a political demonstration before, said his party's leaders should have joined the march.

"If you think you are a party of the Taiwan people, you should stand up for them," he said.

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