TAIPEI (AFP) — Taiwan's president pledged Thursday to bolster the island's diplomatic defences around the world despite facing "Chinese suppression" in its bid to rejoin the United Nations in its own right.
President Chen Shui-bian was speaking the day after Taipei hosted a military parade -- the first in 16 years -- seen as a reminder to Beijing that it has the weaponry to defend itself.
The comments sparked a steely reaction from China which reiterated its vow to stop the island from becoming an independent nation.
Taiwan's display of firepower on Wednesday came amid growing tensions between the two neighbours, who split in 1949 after a civil war, with the island also seeking separate membership of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"Facing China's constant diplomatic suppression ... we have to seek support from democratic societies around the world more actively and strive to join the UN and the WHO under the name 'Taiwan'," Chen said, as he prepared to leave for the Marshall Islands later Thursday for a summit with six Pacific allies.
The states involved - Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands and Nauru - represent a quarter of the 24 countries which recognise Taipei rather than Beijing.
"We are working very hard to cement ties at the second summit between the leaders of Taiwan and its Pacific allies, to fulfill our duties as a member of the international community," Chen told reporters, in what is seen as a bid to boost diplomatic defences against rival China.
However, China was unequivocal in its condemnation of Chen's remarks.
"Chen Shui-bian's splittist plot for Taiwan independence is doomed to failure," a spokesman from the cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement faxed to AFP.
"(China will) never tolerate Taiwan independence and will never ever allow the splittist forces of Taiwan independence to separate Taiwan from China under any name and in any form," and will seek reunification "peacefully," the spokesman said.
The Taiwan president was scheduled to fly to Majuro at 10:35 pm (1435 GMT) for the two-day summit at a Taiwan-funded conference centre, following last year's inaugural summit in Palau.
The talks will focus on health, fisheries, cultural and economic cooperation issues, as well as global warming which threatens the existence of low-lying atoll nations in the Pacific, Taiwanese officials have said.
Taiwan has been trying to beef up its diplomatic initiatives against China with an inaugural summit with its African allies in Taipei last month and another conference with its Central American allies in Honduras in August.
The Majuro meeting comes after Taiwan suffered its latest diplomatic setback when the UN General Assembly last month rejected its 15th annual attempt to rejoin the body.
The island, under its official name Republic of China, lost its UN seat to China in 1971. Its efforts to rejoin the UN using its official title have been repeatedly shot down by Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a part of China awaiting reunification.
The Pacific is one of the main diplomatic battlegrounds for Taiwan and China, which have accused each other of luring allies away with "chequebook diplomacy."
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