“He pushes through this measure today and something else tomorrow,” Huang said, adding that “you cannot rule out a confrontation before 2008,” when Chen’s second and final term will end. Chen still faces an uphill struggle to achieve formal independence for Taiwan, the main goal of his core political constituency. His approval ratings have sunk below 30 percent in some recent polls. The Taiwan legislature, which would have to approve changes to the island’s constitution, is controlled by the Nationalists, who favor more cordial ties to the mainland. The United States, Taiwan’s only major military and political partner, has tried to check creeping moves toward independence. The Bush administration, needing China’s help in managing pressing problems like the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, seems determined to prevent Taiwan from undermining diplomatic ties to Beijing. Even so, the scrapping of the unification council, which Chen first signaled in late January, was widely viewed in Beijing as a test of how successfully the United States could constrain Chen. After a concerted diplomatic push by the Bush administration, Chen modified the wording of his order, saying the council would “cease to function” rather than be “abolished,” the term he had used in January. He also reiterated his pledge to maintain the status quo in cross-strait relations. The pledge and the wording change appeared to reassure Washington. The State Department issued a statement on Monday noting Chen’s decision not to abolish the council formally, suggesting that Washington considered that a significant concession. But in Beijing officials’ view, Chen effectively prevailed over Washington’s objections. “Although he did not use the term ‘abolish’ and changed the term to ‘cease function,’ this is merely a word game,” said a printed statement from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office. “Basically he is tricking the Taiwan people and international opinion.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! BEIJING – President Hu Jintao of China reacted sharply Tuesday to the decision by President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan to terminate the island’s unification council, calling it “a grave provocation” and “a dangerous step on the road toward Taiwan Independence.” Chen on Tuesday completed the formalities for scrapping the National Unification Council and guidelines for unification with mainland China. Though largely moribund, the council and the guidelines were symbols of Taiwan’s political links to Beijing that Chen had once vowed to preserve. Hu said the move threatened stability in the Taiwan Strait and the region. “We will continue to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification, but never tolerate the secession of Taiwan from the motherland,” Hu said in remarks published by the official New China News Agency. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant The Taiwanese government rejected Hu’s objections, repeating Chen’s position that Taiwan was trying only to preserve a balance in its relations across the Taiwan Strait as China builds up its military forces facing the island. “The criticism by China is groundless,” said Joseph Wu, the chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwan government agency that handles relations with Beijing. “What we are doing has nothing to do with changing the status quo.” But analysts in China said the action had shaken Beijing’s confidence that Chen’s recent electoral setbacks and pressure from Washington would check his drive for formal independence. Mainland Chinese had hoped that the upset victory of the opposition Nationalist Party in local elections last year had stymied Taiwan’s independence movement. And many Chinese foreign-policy experts expected the Bush administration to do more than it has done to prevent Chen from trying to legalize Taiwan’s de facto independence. “The reality is that even under heavy American pressure, Chen Shui-bian is determined to provoke a big response from China,” said Huang Jiashu, a Taiwan expert at People’s University in Beijing.