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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese PM Denies Taiwan Law Is 'War Bill'

BEIJING -- Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Monday defended a newly approved law that could authorize a military attack to prevent Taiwan from seeking independence, saying it was intended to ensure peace, not promote war.

"It is not a war bill," Wen said at a televised news conference after the closing of this year's session of the National People's Congress, China's version of a parliament.

Wen also criticized as outside interference a recent joint security declaration by the United States and Japan that listed a peaceful Taiwan Strait as a common objective. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and insists its policy regarding the island is a domestic matter.

"We don't want to see foreign interference," Wen said slowly, speaking about Taiwan, "but we do not fear foreign interference." The assembled hall of 700 journalists, a large majority Chinese, applauded.

His comments came about an hour after the National People's Congress overwhelmingly approved the law. It grants legal authority to the top leaders to attack Taiwan if they believe the disputed island territory is moving too far toward independence. Officials in Taiwan and the United States have criticized the law as overtly provocative and warned it could further destabilize the fragile status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

The law's passage came a day after the president, Hu Jintao, assumed formal control of China's military with a promise to protect the country's sovereignty and defend its "territorial integrity," language pointed directly at Taiwan.

"We shall step up preparations for a possible military struggle and enhance our capabilities to cope with crises, safeguard peace, prevent wars and win the wars if any," Hu said, according to the official New China News Agency.

At his news conference, Wen said the law was meant to "check and oppose Taiwan independence forces." Acknowledging that the law contains potential triggers to war, he said "as long as there is a ray of hope," China would pursue peaceful means to ensure reunification.

He said the United States Congress had passed similar resolutions in 1861 with the intent to stave off civil war, though he said he hoped the Chinese law would be more successful.

Wen, who leads the government's huge bureaucracy, spoke on a range of issues about the country's fast-growing economy. He said countries that have called on China to quickly revaluate its currency have not fully considered the problems that a revaluation could bring. He said that there was no timetable for any changes and that changes might come at an "unexpected" time.

Wen also spoke about China's need to balance its economic growth and to spread its wealth to the vast, impoverished countryside. But asked if the government would change the law that prohibits farmers from owning the land they till, he sidestepped the question, instead saying that they would always be allowed autonomy in "managing the land." Some analysts say the lack of land ownership in rural areas is a fundamental reason farmers remain poor.

To a large degree, the anti-secession law is a political gambit, as China's leaders already are empowered to invade Taiwan with or without statutory approval. But the law creates conditions that could complicate the political machinations of Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, who is loathed by Beijing.

The law dedicates much verbiage to ensuring peaceful reunification. But it also specifies that any change to Taiwan's constitution that would enhance its de facto independent status could bring a military response. Chen has made changing the constitution a centerpiece of his second presidential term.

n Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists are in a quandary over whether to challenge a decision by China to limit the term of the city's new chief executive to two years instead of the full five, Reuters reported.

Not challenging the decision could be seen as tacit acceptance of Beijing's quiet interference behind the scenes, political analysts said. But pushing for a full term could encourage the mainland government to explicitly intervene in the Basic Law, the foundation of Hong Kong's special rights inside communist China.

It could also delay plans for electoral reforms to choose the chief executive, which Beijing has indicated it could support, to 2010 instead of 2007.

Interim leader Donald Tsang, already tipped as the anointed candidate, said on Saturday that a Beijing-sanctioned electoral college on July 10 would select Hong Kong's next chief executive to serve out the two years remaining in former leader Tung Chee-hwa's term.

The highly unpopular Tung resigned last week, citing ill health, although some people in Hong Kong believe he was sacked by Beijing.

The Basic Law governing Hong Kong since it reverted back to China in 1997 stipulates that a chief executive should serve for five years.