TAIPEI -- Several hundred thousand Taiwanese took to the streets yesterday to protest China's passage of a controversial antisecession law authorizing the mainland to use force if Taipei declares independence.
Several demonstrators burned Chinese flags and defaced cardboard images of China, but no major clashes were reported during the mass gathering in which many participants pushed baby carriages, chanted slogans and protest songs, and walked dogs wreathed in peace banners.
''I'm here because I want the world to know that Taiwan's future should be determined by the Taiwanese people," said Maria Yang, 40, a teacher from Taipei, walking with thousands of others toward the president's office. ''I hope China receives a very clear message today that they have no authority over us, no right to pass such a law."
The rally, which organizers said drew 1 million people but police estimated at less than half that number, was as much about gaining foreign support as it was about rallying Taiwanese.
Vietnam-era protest songs ''Blowing in the Wind" and ''We Shall Overcome" were chosen to resonate with overseas viewers, campaign organizers said. Several in the crowd carried US flags, ''Peace" and ''Protect Taiwan" signs in English, and cardboard depictions of President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, leaders of the two nations most likely to defend Taiwan if China were to attack.
''We're trying to have the voice of Taiwan heard by China and the international community," said Hsiao Bi-kim, an organizer and lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. ''The vast majority of people find the Chinese law unacceptable."
The United States has criticized the statute, passed without opposition two weeks ago by Beijing's largely ceremonial Legislature, as a potential irritant affecting tense cross-straits relations. Beijing considers Taiwan a part of its territory. The two sides split in 1949 during a civil war.
Chinese analysts condemned yesterday's demonstration, arguing that it misrepresented genuine Taiwanese public opinion. ''A few pro-independence forces are trying to fan the emotions of Taiwanese who don't understand the law, bringing them onto the streets," said Xu Bodong, a professor at Beijing Union University. ''They lure them with money and gifts like free lunches."
Taiwanese lawmakers and government officials said the next move is up to Beijing. While it's unlikely that China will revoke the law, it could either ease its hard-line rhetoric or further inflame tensions by strengthening its national defense and emergency statutes to conform to the new antisecession law.
The demonstration occurred at a very sensitive time, said Wu Yu-shan, a cross-straits specialist with Academia Sinica, a leading Taiwanese think tank.
''If Beijing interprets the march as a substantial step toward independence, it could put even greater pressure on Taiwan and we could see an escalation" of problems, he said. ''It really depends on everyone knowing the limits."