updated 3/15/2005 2:54:05 AM ET 2005-03-15T07:54:05

China insisted Tuesday that its new law authorizing military force against rival Taiwan is meant to promote peaceful unification, but the United States criticized the measure and Taiwanese officials said it would worsen tensions.

China lashed out at Taiwanese criticism of the law, accusing the island’s government of misleading its people about the measure and trying to promote formal independence.

The law, passed Monday by China’s ceremonial parliament, was front-page news in all major state newspapers. The full text was printed on the front page of the Communist Party paper People’s Daily below a photo of lawmakers applauding following its approval.

The law “seeks a peaceful reunification with Taiwan,” the newspaper China Daily said.

Swift reaction from Taiwan
The measure enshrines in law China’s frequent threats to attack Taiwan if the self-ruled island, split from the mainland since 1949, tries to make its de facto independence permanent.

In Taipei, about 30 pro-independence Taiwan lawmakers protested for a second day, cutting off the heads of paper figures of Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

On Monday, Joseph Wu, the chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which handles policy toward Beijing, said the law “violates the fundamental rights of the Taiwanese.”

The mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office fired back Tuesday, accusing the council of “maliciously distorting” the law’s peaceful intent.

“This is purely misleading and distorted with ulterior motives,” the office said in a statement carried by the official China News Service. It accused Taiwanese leaders of “provoking cross-strait confrontation, and looking for an excuse to create a mood in favor of ‘Taiwan Independence’ separatist forces.”

White House condemns measure
The United States criticized the law, passed despite Washington’s appeal for restraint. A U.S. State Department spokesman said it “does not serve the cause of peace and stability.”

“It only serves to harden positions,” spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington. “We will continue to encourage both sides to engage in peaceful dialogue to solve their differences.”

Chinese leaders insisted Monday they would use force only as a last resort if peaceful efforts fail to unite Taiwan with the mainland fail.

The law says Beijing will try to expand commercial and travel links between the two sides, which have no formal relations.

'A law for peaceful reunification'
“This law is meant to strengthen and promote cross-straits relations,” Premier Wen Jiabao said at a press conference. “This is a law for peaceful reunification, it is not targeted against the people of Taiwan, nor is it a war bill.”

The law doesn’t elaborate on what specific developments might trigger an attack. It adds no new threats or conditions.

“It’s a mixed signal which, on the whole, is not going to help, not going to bring anything positive because it’s going to create additional tension,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

However, Niu Jun, a professor in international relations at Peking University, said the law merely clarifies China’s policy on Taiwan.

“It will make all sides carefully consider their political activities to avoid problems arising from misunderstanding and misjudgment,” said Niu, who advises the government on foreign policy matters.

The Associated Press

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