BEIJING - China's grandiose plans for the torch relay, the high-profile prelude to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, have been engulfed in conflict by an old political rival - Taiwan.
Within hours of Beijing's announcement yesterday of the longest torch relay in Olympic history - an 85,000-mile, 130-day route that would cross five continents and scale Mount Everest - Taiwan rejected its inclusion.
"It is something that the government and people cannot accept," Tsai Chen-wei, the head of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, said in the Taiwanese capital, Taipei.
At issue is the path the flame would take coming into and leaving the island country. Taiwan wants both routes not to touch Chinese soil, but China has the flame's exit going directly to its territory.
The episode underscores the deep mistrust between Beijing and Taipei, antagonists in an unresolved civil war, and how entwined the Olympics have become with politics.
The torch also is supposed to pass through another political hot spot, the Himalayan region of Tibet, which China has controlled for 57 years, often with heavy-handed rule.
The controversies dimmed the gloss on Beijing's long-awaited announcement of the torch route.
At a nationally televised ceremony attended by senior members of China's ruling Communist Party and the International Olympic Committee, organizers unveiled the torch and showed a video of the proposed route.
"It will be a relay that will cover the longest distance and be most inclusive and involve the most people in Olympic history," said Liu Qi, the head of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee.
The relay is a popular public-relations tool and the only contact most people have with the Olympics.
As with all Olympics, next year's relay will begin in Greece, on March 25. After circling Greece, it arrives in Beijing on March 31.
After that, it will wind across Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, and then back to Asia and China before the torch ignites the cauldron at the opening ceremony Aug. 8, 2008, in Beijing's 91,000-seat National Stadium.
The relay's signature moment is expected to be its ascent to the summit of Mount Everest.
Beijing and Taiwan hoped to use the torch relay to bolster political agendas: for Beijing that Taiwan is part of Chinese territory, and for Taiwan that it is independent.
To that end, Taiwan wanted to participate as part of the international route - with the torch entering and departing the island via nations other than China. China would like the island run to be part of the domestic route.
In an attempt at compromise, Beijing Olympic organizers said the torch would pass from Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei, then to Hong Kong and Macau, both of which are Chinese-controlled.
"I sincerely hope that Taiwan compatriots can enjoy the glories and joy of the torch relay," said Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee.
But Taiwan's Tsai said: "This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty."
See more on the torch route and the Beijing Summer Olympics at the official Web site via http://go.philly.com/chinagames EndText