TAIPEI, Taiwan — China denied Saturday that it has promised U.S. officials it will not invade this island, amid reports that it is plotting yet another round of war games near the island--beyond the ones scheduled to begin Monday.
But in Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said there had been no change in the Clinton administration's view that China intends no invasion of Taiwan. She said that there was no reason to retreat from the assessment of State Department officials who told reporters last week that the United States has been assured through diplomatic channels that "there's no change in their [Chinese officials'] intention to seek a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question."
In the Taiwanese capital, about 20,000 people marched through Taipei's streets Saturday to demand independence and to protest China's latest maneuvers. The rally was the biggest since Beijing started its most recent round of saber-rattling.
"I'd rather be a Taiwanese than a Chinese slave," went one angry chant. Another said, "Taiwan does not belong to China."
"I would die for my country," said a woman on a motor scooter at the rally, which was organized by Taiwan's biggest opposition group, the Democratic Progressive Party.
Chinese forces have been staging military exercises off Taiwan since Tuesday, and a new round is set to begin Monday. China has also test-fired four missiles over the past eight days.
The maneuvers are seen as an attempt to scare voters away from casting ballots for Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, who is expected to win a new term in elections Saturday. China claims Lee has abandoned the goal of reunification with the mainland.
Shih Tze-chung, an official of the Taiwan's National Security Bureau, said Chinese troops appeared to be preparing for still more exercises even after Monday's round.
Shih didn't say where the information came from, but the China Times Express newspaper, quoting an unidentified military official, said Chinese troops were still stockpiling supplies even though they had enough for this week's exercises.
While the Pentagon has played down the threat of invasion, China's Foreign Ministry denied that it had given assurances to Washington that it won't attack Taiwan.
"These reports are baseless," spokesman Shen Guofang said on Chinese television. "China has never promised to give up the use of force."
U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, reviewing 3rd Fleet ships engaged in combat training off the Southern California coast, agreed that China's live-fire military maneuvers are an attempt at intimidation of the small island. But he cautioned against an overreaction by the American public.
"I have told my colleagues that they [the Chinese maneuvers] are deplorable but that I do not confuse that with an assessment that this is a prelude to an invasion of Taiwan," Perry told reporters aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.
He noted that, while the People's Republic of China has a massive army, it has little capability for an amphibious assault of the kind that would be needed to invade Taiwan.
Whatever the Chinese goals may be, Perry said, "what is not going on is a buildup to an attack on Taiwan."
Taiwan is run by Nationalists who fled to the island after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949. But the Communist regime in Beijing regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be recovered by force if necessary.
The two sides have flourishing trade ties, but Taiwan refuses to discuss reunification until China starts democratizing.
In preparation for Monday's war games, Taiwanese authorities, anxious to assure the public that they are prepared for any emergency, ordered hospitals to increase supplies of blood and medicine, and urged the public to donate blood.