China prods US to block Taiwan "splittist" moves

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BEIJING, Nov 27 (Reuters) China has again prodded the United States to oppose a controversial referendum on UN membership by Taiwan and warned Washington to stop arms sales to the island China claims as its own, state media said today.

The island's independence-leaning president, Chen Shui-bian, plans a referendum next March on whether to seek to join the United Nations under the name of ''Taiwan'' despite repeated warnings from the United States and China.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the self-governed democracy of 23 million people back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, recognising ''one China'', but is obliged by the Taiwan Relations Act to help the island defend itself.

Taiwan's ''splittist'' referendum was aimed at ''de jure independence'' and ''posed a grim threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait'', Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington on Monday.

''Opposing and obstructing the referendum'' was in the interests of both China and the United States, Xinhua news agency quoted Yang as saying.

Yang was in the United States to attend a Middle East peace conference.

China and Taiwan have faced off since Mao Zedong's Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Nationalists to the island in 1949.

The Nationalists held China's UN seat until 1971 when the world body switched recognition to Beijing. The island has failed in successive re-entry bids over the past 15 years.

Washington, Taiwan's biggest ally and arms supplier, has drawn fire from Beijing for plans to sell Taiwan a 940 million dollar upgrade to its missile system.

''The Chinese side urges the US side ... to stop selling advanced weapons to Taiwan and not to send wrong signals to the Chen Shui-bian administration,'' Xinhua quoted Yang as saying.

Last week, China blocked a long-planned Thanksgiving visit to Hong Kong by the Kitty Hawk, a US aircraft carrier group.

Analysts have speculated that displeasure with Washington over the planned weapons system sale was a reason for the action.

China later reversed course and said the Kitty Hawk could land, but the ships steamed back to their base in Japan.

Despite the incident, Yang described bilateral ties as ''having kept a positive momentum of stable growth''.

REUTERS SZ BST0943

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