TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ Taiwan's leader on Saturday promised to make an ``important announcement'' in his National Day speech that will improve icy relations with rival China and strengthen ties with the United States _ the island's most important friend.
But President Chen Shui-bian was tightlipped about the content of Sunday's speech, which will likely be closely monitored by Chinese leaders, who deeply distrust Chen and refuse to talk to him. The two sides split in 1949, and Beijing says Taiwan must unify eventually or suffer a devastating attack.
In recent weeks, Taiwan has been trying to get China interested in discussing allowing direct flights across the strait. Chen's speech might provide a new offer to restart the transport links, cut five decades ago after the two sides split.
Referring to himself by his nickname, A-bian, Chen told the audience at a concert Saturday that his address would strengthen the island's bonds with both Washington and Beijing.
``I believe A-bian's important announcement tomorrow will definitely help improve relations with China and elevate U.S.-Taiwan ties,'' he said.
He also said he would be ``confident, responsible, sincere, creative and forward-looking'' when dealing with China.
A high-ranking official close to the president declined to reveal to The Associated Press what Chen plans to say, adding that only a small circle was privy to the contents of his speech.
The president might have great difficulty impressing Chinese leaders. They have demanded that before talks can start, Chen must agree that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China that has no other choice but to unify.
Chen has said this is unacceptable and that Taiwan is a sovereign nation. He says only the Taiwanese can determine whether the island unifies or seeks permanent independence.
As tensions fester across the Taiwan Strait, some countries have become more vocal about their fears that a war could break out there.
Singapore's new leader, Lee Hsien Loong, warned in a recent televised address that China means business when it talks about using force to stop Taiwan independence. ``War may be inevitable,'' he said.
And the United States issued an unusually blunt warning to Chen as he campaigned for re-election on a China-bashing platform in polls last March. U.S. President George W. Bush dressed down the Taiwanese leader, saying Washington opposed unilateral moves to change the status quo in the Taiwan Straits.
Taiwan considers strong ties with the United States crucial to ensure its defense. When China test fired missiles near Taiwan in 1996, Washington sent aircraft carriers to the area. America is also the only major nation that sells advanced weapons to Taiwan.
Europe has stopped dealing arms to Taiwan because of China's fierce protests over sales.