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China Advises U.S. to Intervene On Proposed Taiwan Referendum

By Joseph Kahn

The New York Times -- BEIJING

China is putting pressure on the Bush administration to intervene more decisively to prevent Taiwan from holding a referendum on relations with the mainland, calling the planned vote a “dangerous provocation” that could lead to a confrontation.

Beijing sent a mission to Washington this week to urge the United States to take more concrete steps to rein in Taiwan’s president, Chen Shui-bian, a Chinese foreign ministry official said. Chen has repeatedly played down statements from President Bush and the State Department expressing opposition to the referendum plan.

The Chinese effort reflects growing concern in Beijing that the Taiwan problem is becoming more acute, even though Chen recently softened the language of his proposed referendum and offered to resume talks with China if he wins re-election on March 20. Some officials and analysts here are alarmed that Chen has pushed ahead with the plebiscite despite U.S. opposition.

A foreign ministry official, who declined to be identified by name, said a request for more active intervention was conveyed to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who visited Beijing late last week. The official said a further appeal to the United States to take firmer steps to derail the referendum was relayed by Chen Yunlin, the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council, or Cabinet, who met State Department officials in Washington this week.

Asking the United States to play an intermediary role with Taiwan breaks a longstanding taboo in Beijing, where officials have often criticized Washington for meddling in relations between China and Taiwan. As such, it shows how limited China’s options are for dealing with the matter, which some analysts here fear could lead to a military clash if its is not resolved soon.