PRESIDENT Jiang Zemin did not attend the anniversary conference commemorating his eight-point plan for unification because it was inappropriate to honour oneself, officials say. Instead, premier Li Peng gave the keynote speech at the meeting. No timetable for unification was mentioned in Mr Li's speech. However, informed officials stressed it would be misleading to say Beijing appeared softer towards Taipei's independence manoeuvres. 'Premier Li has, in his speech, insisted that Beijing would not stop the 'combat' against Taiwan's independence and separatism activities. 'Taiwan leaders who were responsible for separatist manoeuvres should be responsible for the consequences,' an official said. But a top mainland expert on Taiwan, Xin Qi, argued the speech was responsive to the new political situation across the strait. 'Mr Li particularly pointed out that whatever changes might occur in the way the Taiwan leadership was chosen, the fact that Taiwan is part of China cannot be changed,' Mr Xin said. Meanwhile, Li Jiaquan, deputy executive chairman of the Beijing Taiwan Economic Research Centre, said while Taipei tried to play the public opinion card in the reunification issue, Beijing had opted for a different strategy. For example, university students in the mainland had shown increasing interest in the unification matter but officials were careful not to mobilise them. He said students in several universities had sought to organise demonstrations last year to protest against President Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States. But they were advised by officials and school administrators not to demonstrate for fear of triggering off mass student protests. Institutions included Beijing University, People's University and Nanjing University, he said. Internal meetings were organised in these universities instead to let students voice their opinions on the issue. Students at Beijing University, for instance, had set up a research group on Taiwan, he said. The State Education Commission had also instructed universities to educate students 'positively' on the strait situation and reunification, while experts on the issue were asked to draw up a curriculum on the issue.