Taipei, Taiwan Taiwan's opposition candidate ripped into President Chen Shui-bian in the final presidential debate Saturday, calling him an incompetent leader who has provoked China and damaged valuable relations with the United States and Japan.
Chen fired back that his challenger, ex-Vice President Lien Chan, lacked vision, ideas and courage. He also accused Lien, leader of the Nationalist Party, of having a wishy-washy policy on China, the island's biggest security threat.
"He doesn't believe in himself. He doesn't believe in Taiwan," said Chen, who most polls say is running neck and neck with Lien ahead of the March 20 vote.
The wide-ranging debate also touched on women's issues, the economy and defense. But relations with China were a major point.
Since Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, their leaders have not met, and the Taiwan Strait remains one of Asia's most volatile potential flash points. China has threatened to attack if Taiwan refuses to unify.
The 67-year-old Lien, who lost to Chen in the 2000 election, said the president's policies had raised tensions with China and caused alarm among the island's friends -- including the United States and Japan.
"He has ruptured our relations with the outside world," said Lien, who pledged to immediately visit Japan and the United States to patch up ties if he's elected.
"His team is a team that lacks talent," Lien said.
Lien also said Chen, 52, had broken a promise from his campaign in 2000 to re-establish direct shipping, aviation and postal links with China. The ties were severed five decades ago.
"Four years ago, Chen Shui-bian said he would push for the three links, but after saying it more than 10 times, there are still no links at all," Lien said.
The two also sparred over Taiwan's defense policy on China.
"Our Nationalist Party supports a limited war," Lien said. "We'll use the Taiwan Strait to win the first round and that will give us time to hold talks."
Lien didn't elaborate.
The president fired back: "Do you really have to let the war begin? Then after you fight, seek peace? To be a nation's leader, can you be so superficial, so naive?"