| Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AFP)
Beijing/Taipei, March 14 (Reuters): China passed a law today granting itself the right to attack Taiwan if it moves towards formal independence, drawing protests from the island and a rebuke from Washington.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao defended the legislation, approved in a near unanimous vote to a lengthy ovation from lawmakers, saying it was aimed at peace as long as Taiwan, which China claims as its own, does not formally declare statehood.
'This is a law to strengthen and promote cross-Strait relations, for peaceful reunification, not targeted at the people of Taiwan, nor is it a law of war,' Wen said.
The US said it opposed 'any attempts to determine the future of Taiwan by anything other than peaceful means'. 'We view the adoption of the anti-secession law as unfortunate,' a U.S. spokesman said.'It does not serve the purpose of peace and security in the Taiwan strait. We believe it runs counter to recent progress in cross-Strait relations.'
Taiwan cabinet spokesman Cho Jung-tai warned the move could cost China but gave no specifics. The island's cabinet will review economic and trade policy on China later.
'The anti-secession law is a law that authorises war,' Cho Jung-tai said. 'It has caused resentment in Taiwan and opposition in the international community. China has to bear the responsibility and pay a price for this law.'
The National People's Congress passed the legislation, which stipulates that China would resort to 'non-peaceful' means against Taiwan as a last resort, on a vote of 2,896 and two abstentions. President Hu Jintao quickly signed it.
Wen drew a parallel between China-Taiwan relations and the American civil war (1861-65), fought to prevent southern states from seceding.
'In the US, the civil war broke out, but we here do not wish to see such a situation,' Wen said, adding that China did not want, but did not fear, foreign interference on Taiwan. Analysts say China hopes the legislation will deter Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from pushing for independence during his second and final term that ends in 2008.
The law could ratchet up tension in one of the most dangerous flashpoints in Asia. Chen has denounced it as a threat to regional security and his Democratic Progressive Party plans to a stage a 500,000-strong protest on March 26.
Despite the legislation, analysts say the People's Liberation Army has no immediate plans to attack Taiwan.