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Beijing lays down law over Taiwan

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has unveiled a controversial new law that would allow Beijing to use military action against Taiwan if peaceful means fail to stop the island pursuing independence.

In a highly anticipated announcement, Beijing on Tuesday released details of the planned new anti-secession bill during its annual session of parliament.

A leading Communist party official said force would be a last resort if reunification efforts fail.

China has considered Taiwan a renegade province since communist forces drove nationalists from the mainland in 1949, and has repeatedly threatened to use military power against the island if it declares independence.

"Using non-peaceful means to stop secession in defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity would be our last resort when all our efforts for a peaceful reunification should prove futile," Wang Zhaoguo, vice-chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC), told the session.

In the event of any conflict, China would take the utmost care to protect civilians and foreigners, as well as their property, Wang stressed.

Taiwan issued a strong protest against the proposed law, saying it ignores the island's sovereignty and raises tension in the region by giving the Chinese military a blank check to attack. (Full story)

The bill comes under the banner of the "One-China Policy" and "draws a legislative line in the sand," CNN's Beijing Correspondent Stan Grant said.

"The key thing here is they are stressing, above all, China's sovereignty," Grant said.

The new legislation is designed to put a legal framework behind those threats, analysts have said.

"(Beijing) hopes to establish legal basis for (its) Taiwan policy ... and Chinese leaders want to establish a base line," Joseph Cheng, a political science professor from the City University of Hong Kong, told CNN Tuesday.

"Taiwan probably will try to present itself as a victim of the law," Cheng added, and said Taipei would likely claim that it had done nothing to provoke the legislation.

China's Congress is expected to unanimously pass the law when its session wraps up on March 14.

Details of the planned law had been kept under close wraps, and had been the subject of much speculation and concern, particularly in Taiwan, where there are fears the law will give China a legal basis to take military action against the island.

Despite China's insistence that the aim of the bill is peaceful unification, there has been a sense of unease over cross-strait relations in recent days.

About 15,000 people marched in the Taiwan city of Kaohsiung on Sunday to protest what some called a "war preparation" bill, and Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said recently that the proposed law cast a "dark cloud" over relations between the island and mainland China.

China wants to negotiate with Taiwan "as equal partners" and discussed strengthening education, sporting and cultural ties across the strait, Wang added.

On Sunday, China's Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing warned Japan and the United States against interfering in China's internal affairs, especially regarding Taiwan.

"Any practice of putting Taiwan directly or indirectly into the scope of Japan-U.S. security cooperation constitutes an encroachment on China's sovereignty and interference in internal affairs," Li told a news conference.

Last month both Japan and the United States listed security in the Taiwan Strait as a common concern.

Beijing has said unequivocally that a secession attempt by Taiwan would not be tolerated.

"We will never allow separatist forces to secede from the great motherland ... we will never allow it," Li said.

The issue has been at the forefront in recent years because of moves by President Chen to hold a referendum on a new constitution for Taiwan which Beijing worries could include a declaration of independence for the island.

Washington is bound to defend Taiwan's security in the event of any attack from the mainland, but has increasingly warned Taipei against unilateral moves to change the status quo.

The proposed anti-secession bill comes against the backdrop of an increase in China's military budget, which has also been raising eyebrows.

Beijing's arms budget will rise 12.6 percent this year to 247.7 billion yuan ($29.9 billion), parliament spokesman Jiang Enzhu said Friday. (Full story)

CNN Beijing Correspondent Stan Grant and Producer Tara Duffy contributed to this report

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