China Rejects Taiwan's Call for Peace Talks

China on Wednesday rejected Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's (search) call for peace talks between the island and the mainland, saying the overture was a bid for independence that could lead to disaster.

In a speech Sunday marking Taiwan's Oct. 10 National Day (search), Chen urged China to begin peace talks so the rivals can avoid war. Beijing, however, deeply distrusts Chen, who it accuses of pushing for independence with his proposal to adopt a new constitution for Taiwan.

"Chen Shui-bian claims to want to ease tensions, but his remarks wantonly seek to create separate countries on each side of the Taiwan Strait," said Zhang Mingqing (search), a spokesman for the Chinese government's Taiwan Affairs Office, at a news briefing. "Chen Shui-bian's behavior can only lead to disaster."

The two sides split amid civil war in 1949, but China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to attack if the self-ruling island declares formal independence.

Taiwan's acceptance of the "one-China principle" is required before there can be any talks, he said.

"We have repeatedly called for an early resumption of dialogue and talks across the strait on the basis of the one-China principle," he said.

Zhang refused to respond to Taiwan's latest proposal to set up chartered flights across the 100-mile strait that divides the two sides.

"We have already talked about this question many times. I don't want to talk about it," he said.

Zhang later reiterated Beijing's long-held view that any flights would be a domestic matter for China and would have to be in both directions.

Taiwan responded Wednesday by repeating the Chen's call for the rivals to shelve their political disputes and discuss less controversial issues, just as they did in 1992 when their envoys held an icebreaking meeting in Hong Kong.

"Everybody is clear that the significance of the 1992 meeting was that both sides put aside their disputes and engaged in practical negotiations," Taiwanese Cabinet spokesman Chen Chi-mai said.

The Hong Kong discussions led to a series of meetings the brought the two sides closer than they've ever been to resolving their five-decade feud. The exchanges broke down in 1999 amid new disagreements about Taiwan's political status.