| Jiang Zemin (left) and Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Reuters)
Beijing, March 8 (Reuters): China unveiled an anti-secession bill today that allows the use of military force to thwart any bid for independence by Taiwan but sought to ease US concerns by leaving itself other options.
The bill has raised alarm bells in Taiwan, the US and Japan, but diplomats and analysts said the draft's emphasis on 'non-peaceful' means as a last resort appeared designed to provide China alternatives to war, such as blockades or sanctions.
Beijing has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since their split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has threatened to attack the democratic island of 23 million if it formally declares statehood.
The bill calls for the use of non-peaceful means should 'major incidents' entailing Taiwan's secession from China occur, or should possibilities for a peaceful reunification be completely exhausted, Wang Zhaoguo, a vice-chairman of parliament, told the law-making body. He did not elaborate.
'Using non-peaceful means to stop secession in defence of our sovereignty and territorial integrity would be our last resort when all our efforts for a peaceful reunification should prove futile,' Wang said, quoting from the bill.
He said the bill was 'necessary and timely', but added that China was still committed to peaceful reunification with Taiwan.
'So long as there is a glimmer of hope for peaceful reunification, we will exert our utmost to make it happen rather than give it up,' said Wang, who sits on the Communist Party's elite 24-member Politburo.
In Taipei, the bill sparked an expected angry response from the government. 'Communist China tries to use this bill to deny the sovereignty of the Republic of China and unilaterally change the status quo of the Taiwan Strait,' said Chiu Tai-shan, vice chairman of Taiwan's policy-making Mainland Affairs Council, using Taiwan's official name.
'It has caused tension in the region,' he said, reading from a prepared statement at a news conference. 'We voice our strongest protest.'
Asked to comment, Taiwan Premier Frank Hsieh told parliament he supported revising sensitive parts of the constitution if China passed the bill legalising an attack and including Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China.
But Chen Yuchun, a China expert at Taiwan's private Chinese Culture University, said: 'Non-peaceful means is a lot more flexible and could include economic sanctions, a blockade, and not necessarily refer to military conflict.
'The choice of words is certainly more moderate.'
A western diplomat in Beijing said: 'The Chinese are doing the maximum they can now to soften the blow of this legislation. (But) they certainly are not going to backtrack on passing it.'
Taiwan stocks gave up earlier gains to close down 0.76 per cent today, but mainly on renewed fears over China's measures to cool its economy.
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has called the legislation the biggest threat to regional stability. Thousands took part in a protest march against the bill in southern Taiwan on Sunday.
The US, the island's main arms supplier, and Japan have been alarmed about the implications for one of the world's hottest flash points.
Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, who spoke to his US counterpart Condoleezza Rice about Taiwan today, said the issue was China's business and China's alone.