Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: US should not oppose referendum

A week ago, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) proposed a referendum on Taiwan's sovereignty to be held on the same day as next year's presidential election. This has caused a sensation at home and abroad.

In response, James Moriarty, the senior director for Asian affairs at the US National Security Council, visited Taipei to express Washington's concern over the referendum issue. Richard Boucher, spokesman for the US Department of State, replaced the US' mild phrase about "not supporting" an independence referendum with a statement that the US would "be opposed to" such referendums. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) will visit Washington next week, and may pressure the White House on the Taiwan issue. A subtle change has occurred in the relationship among Taiwan, China and the US.

These reactions are the result of a presidential campaign, the confrontation between the green and blue camps and the distorted legislation process caused by the Referendum Law (公民投票法). To let the people try out the new law, Chen has decided to use Article 17, which empowers the president to initiate a "defensive referendum" on a national security issue in the face of an external threat. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has broken the through the law's restrictions, but misunderstandings of the meaning of "defensive referendum" have caused concern here and abroad.

Following explanations by government officials over the last few days, Chen has guaranteed that the goal of a defensive referendum is to let the people express their wish to maintain the status quo, and that it does not constitute a change to his "five noes" promise. The current plans for a referendum are aimed at a vote opposing China's missile deployment and the "one country, two systems" model. This is further evidence that the defensive referendum is a harmless expression of public opinion. Originally seen as provocative, it no longer challenges the status quo, but now becomes a direct expression of public opinion that does not violate Taiwan's promises to the international community.

The opposition to any unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, regardless of whether such a change would be the result of China's armed threats or Taiwan changing any of the symbols of sovereignty, represents the spirit of US cross-strait policy. "Not supporting" Taiwanese independence and "opposing" Chinese military action against Taiwan cannot be separated. In other words, the essence of US policy must be an unbiased "neither arms nor independence."

China has deployed 496 missiles across the Taiwan Strait and frequently sent its warships near our waters. China's threat to Taiwan far surpasses that of the former Soviet Union to the US when it deployed missiles in Cuba during the Cold War. Then US president John Kennedy did not hesitate to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war to make Moscow remove the missiles.

Threatened by China, Taiwan is justified in holding a defensive referendum to express the people's discontent.

What the US opposes is a referendum to change the status quo. The government has clarified that the defensive referendum will not touch upon the independence-unification issue and Chen's "five noes" policy. Rather, it will maintain the status quo. Since this is in line with the US' cross-strait policy, Washington should have no reason to oppose it. The US Congress has also expressed its respect for the Taiwanese people's decision regarding their future.

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