TAIWAN SAYS REFERENDUM AIMED AT STAVING OFF WAR


2003-12-11
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President calls on international community not to take military threat for granted

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has said that a referendum planned for March 2004 is not aimed at changing the status quo on the island, but to prevent war, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

Speaking in response to earlier comments made by U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at their meeting in Washington Tuesday, Chen called on the international community not to simply accept the threat of military action which Beijing levels at the island, lest it should seek formal independence.

"Taiwan is a country with independent sovereignty. As the president of the Republic of China, my mandate is to protect that sovereignty, dignity, and security," Chen told reporters.

The Republic of China was set up after the 1911 revolution which saw the fall of China's last imperial dynasty. The ruling Nationalist Party continued to use the name even after its flight to Taiwan in 1949, when they lost a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland. Beijing has threatened to use force should the island seek independent nationhood under the name Taiwan.

"We have no intention of changing the status quo in Taiwan," Chen said, "but we have no intention either of allowing the status quo in Taiwan to be changed by others."

"The Chinese Communist Party can be undemocratic, not pursue reforms if they wish," he said. "But they cannot be allowed to oppose or get rid of Taiwan's democratic reform process. We urge the international community not to regard the military threat from China...as a matter of course," Chen said.

Chen reaffirmed that the referendum would take place in March 2004, in the same month as the presidential poll, in which he is a candidate.

He said that the aspirations of 23 million Taiwan citizens for deeper democracy and the restoration of peace, for independence, and their anxieties over the threat from these missiles, were not matters to be settled by a handful of Chinese leaders in Beijing.

Chen's comments came after Bush called on Taiwan not to take any unilateral steps toward independence during a meeting with the visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Washington.

"We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo," Bush said. "And the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose," Bush added.

However, U.S. officials have also reaffirmed Washington's commitment to help defend Taiwan in the event of an attack from China.

Cross-straits tensions traditionally run high during major elections on the democratic island, and Chen announced the referendum as his 2004 presidential election campaign moved into full swing.

Taiwan has already responded to criticism by saying that the referendum only demands that China stop pointing missiles at the island. Taiwan officials and the ruling party argue that the poll�Taiwan's first islandwide referendum�is vital to expanding the young democracy and protesting against China's missile threat.

"We need to widen our democracy, and we need U.S. support for this," Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said Tuesday.

At the meeting with Bush, Wen also repeated an earlier warning against any move that would seek to formalise the island's de facto independence.

"The Chinese government respects the desire of people in Taiwan for democracy," Wen said. "But we must point out that the attempts of Taiwan authorities, headed by Chen Shui-bian, are only using democracy as an excuse and (an) attempt to resort to (a) defensive referendum to split Taiwan away from China.

"Such separatist activities are what the Chinese side can absolutely not accept and tolerate," Wen said.

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