Chinese lawmakers began considering a proposed anti-secession law on Saturday that Beijing says is aimed at pushing Taiwan (search) to unite with the mainland. The self-ruled island contends the law could serve as a pretext for a military attack.

The government hasn't released any details of the law. But the Foreign Ministry says it is aimed at "containing Taiwan's splittist activities" — a reference to Beijing's claim that Taiwan, which split from the mainland in 1949, is trying to declare formal independence.

Though it would be largely symbolic, the law apparently is meant as a warning in response to what Beijing says are steps by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian (search) to pursue independence through a proposed constitutional revision and other legal steps.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to attack if it declares formal independence. The Chinese military has hundreds of missiles aimed at the island and regularly holds drills that appear to be practice for an invasion.

Leaders of the National People's Congress (search) took up the anti-secession law at a meeting that runs through Wednesday, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Earlier reports said the full legislature might pass the law during its annual session in March.

Beijing has grown increasingly worried that Chen is trying to assert Taiwan's autonomy, rejecting a formula under which the two sides said for decades that they were one nation.

Following China's announcement of the proposed anti-secession law last week, the United States appealed to both sides to resume dialogue and not "unilaterally change the status quo."

Washington is Taiwan's main ally and arms supplier and could be drawn in to help defend the island in a conflict with China.