China 'concerned' at Taiwan bill
Beijing insists self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is a renegade province that must eventually return to China.
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China says it is "gravely concerned" over Taiwan's passing of a controversial referendum bill and repeated a warning it would never tolerate independence for the island.
Taiwan's parliament approved a bill Thursday that could allow the island to vote on sovereignty issues -- but the opposition managed to water down most of the provisions that would most likely anger Beijing.
"We are gravely concerned about the situation surrounding Taiwan's referendum law," said an unnamed spokesman for the Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"We are paying close attention to the development of the situation."
Though the statement did not amount to the "strong response" promised earlier this week, and failed to repeat threats of military action, it was a clear warning that Taiwan's independence could never happen.
"We are firmly opposed to anyone using the referendum law to push independence for Taiwan. Our position on the Taiwan question is very clear. There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inseparable part of China's sacred territory," the spokesman added.
"China's sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be divided."
The official added that China remains "resolutely opposed" to anyone using a referendum to promote Taiwanese independence,
On Thursday, Taiwan's parliament threw out most of a radical version of the referendum bill proposed by President Chen Shui-bian's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), ultimately passing a much watered-down law that makes it difficult to call a referendum on independence under the current legislature.
Opposition lawmakers celebrate after they defeated most of the bill.
However, lawmakers passed the so-called "defensive referendum" allowing the president to call a plebiscite on independence if China attacked the island.
In a blow to Chen, Taiwan's two main opposition parties --which control the majority of parliament -- were able to defeat most of the major provisions in the bill.
The legislation bars referendums on changing Taiwan's flag or the island's official name, the Republic of China. It also introduces restrictions that make it difficult to hold referendums to change Taiwan's constitution or to vote for a new or rewritten constitution.
Under the bill, Taipei cannot call a referendum unless a special referendum committee approves it before being allowed by the legislature.
As long as the opposition coalition holds the majority, it will be virtually impossible to allow a public vote on sensitive issues such as independence.
Following the vote, Chen's party criticized the opposition for watering down the legislation, saying it limited the people's right to choose their own destiny.
It is unclear what action Chen or his cabinet will now take. Taiwan Premier Yu Shyi-kun said the cabinet might try to repeal the legislation. Also, if Chen calls for a re-vote, the legislature will have to reconsider it within 15 days.
Chinese officials had expressed fears in the lead up to Thursday's bill that the vote would lay the groundwork for a series of referendums that could lead to independence.
China has said such moves would violate Beijing's "One China" policy, and warned of a "strong response."
Beijing insists self-ruled, democratic Taiwan is a renegade province that must eventually return to China -- by force, if necessary. The two split during a civil war in 1949.