Sun, Jun 22, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US opposes referendum, government officials say

PLEBISCITES Officials in Taiwan say they may go ahead with plans to give citizens a direct say, even though Washington fears such a move would provoke Beijing

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Anti-nuclear protesters demanding an advisory referendum to decide the fate of the Fourth Nuclear Plant march through downtown Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

The US opposes Taiwan holding referendums, regardless of whether they are sanctioned by a referendum law, high-ranking Taiwanese officials said yesterday.

A spokesman for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said Washington planned to comment on the issue tomorrow.

A local newspaper said yesterday that AIT Director Douglas Paal had expressed Washington's opposition to any national referendum, regardless of the issue concerned, during a meeting with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) that same day.

The report also said Paal told Chen that Beijing opposed any referendum in Taiwan as it deems the move too provocative.

Presidential Office spokesman James Huang (黃志芳) as well as AIT spokesman Robert Howes declined to confirm the meeting or to comment on the report.

It is common practice for the Presidential Office not to comment on any of the head of state's meetings that are closed to the press.

The government has vowed to study holding a national advisory referendum on whether to halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, as well as on whether Taiwan should join the World Health Organization.

Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) said the US has shown its concern over the referendum issue, but added he still has room to maneuver.

Chiou said the government is evaluating whether to go ahead with these advisory plebiscites next year.

The government plans to hold the advisory referendum on public policy issues rather than on the sensitive reunification-independence issue, Chiou said.

A high-ranking Taiwanese official, who declined to be named, said Chiou's response indirectly confirmed the US message.

"The US has indeed opposed any referendum," the official said.

But the official saw the US stance on the issue as a result of Washington's calculations on what is in its best interest, while adding that Taipei does not necessarily have to do what the US wants.

"To my knowledge, the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant involves US economic interests. Each country has its different concerns -- domestic, economic and foreign policy," the official said.

"The US opposition is merely a reflection of the country's stance. And such an expression does not mean that we cannot go ahead with it [a referendum]," the official said.

Taipei and Washington have not started any formal consultations on this issue, the official added.

Howes said AIT is scheduled to state its position on the referendum issue tomorrow after receiving instructions from the US Department of State.

To protest the construction of the power plant, former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) led a group of anti-nuclear activists on a march through downtown Taipei yesterday and will do so again today.

Lin is slated to lead a group of supporters in a sit-in in front of the Presidential Office on July 4.

He has called on the government to hold a referendum on the fate of the controversial project to coincide with next year's presidential election.

The constitution protects the direct exercise of civil rights, but the legislature has failed to pass a draft on referendums since the executive branch sent a draft bill its way in April last year.

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