Taiwan's leader 'to shelve unification body'

Taiwan’s president is expected to suspend the work of a government committee to reunify with rival China today, instead of scrapping the body altogether, in an apparent attempt to avoid American anger, a report says.

President Chen Shui-bian came to the decision after intense negotiations between Taiwan and Washington over the weekend, the United Daily News said, quoting an unidentified Taiwanese government source.

Chiu I-jen, head of Taiwan’s National Security Council, said the top security agency would make a proposal to Chen today on the fate of the National Unification Council as well as the official guidelines on unification. He refused to give more details.

Chen said last month he wanted to drop the self-governing, democratic island’s guidelines calling for eventual union with mainland China and eliminate the body that is supposed to help push for the union.

The US – Taiwan’s only major ally – is legally committed to ensure the island can be defended from Chinese attack, but Washington has said repeatedly in recent weeks that it is opposed to either side making unilateral changes to the status quo.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan moves toward formal, permanent independence.

China yesterday accused Chen of inciting tensions. “The further escalation of Taiwanese independence and secessionist activities, pushed by Chen Shui-bian, will no doubt cause a serious crisis across the Taiwan Strait,” said a government statement.

Taiwan’s former president Lee Teng-hui adopted the guidelines – which spell out a plan for unification when China drops communism to pursue democracy - shortly after he took power in 1988.

Since Chen became president in 2000, he has sidelined the guidelines but avoided abolishing them in what appears to be an attempt to appease China and avoid upsetting Washington.

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