Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 1 News List

President defends nation's right to hold referendums

UNIVERSAL VALUE Chen Shui-bian says the US and China have no reason to worry about referendums in Taiwan since they will not be dealing with sovereignty

By Rick Chu and Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTERS

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday reiterated the government's determination to hold referendums, saying the issue is an internal matter in which the US could not and would not interfere.

Since the planned referendums have nothing to do with sovereignty, Chen said, China also has no right to oppose them.

"The US government's position is clear. They understand that referendums are a universal value and a basic right of people. They have, therefore, never opposed the idea of referendums in Taiwan, recognizing that this is a matter for Taiwan's people [to decide]," Chen said at a tea gathering with local media chiefs last night.

"Actually, the US government is only responding to the Chinese government's concern that referendums have implications for sovereignty," Chen said. "But, of the whole series of democratic reforms that Taiwan has undergone in the past, which of them has China supported?"

"The lifting of martial law, press freedom, legislative reform, direct presidential elections -- they opposed each from beginning to end. But these things are now realities," he said, adding that Taiwan will not halt reforms and progress just because of opposition from China.

Chen said that China was concerned about the impact of referendums on sovereignty, despite his having made clear that they would only be used for civil affairs.

"They [referendums] have nothing to do with sovereignty and the other side of the Strait has no reason to oppose them," he said.

"If Taiwan wishes to hold referendums to protect its sovereignty, China has no grounds to oppose its doing so, especially since referendums are not a matter relating to the sovereignty issue," he said.

Chen was reacting to questions from the media about the attitudes of the US and China toward referendums in Taiwan.

His remarks came during a discussion with more than 50 media executives on the second day of his cross-country tour.

The president said the referendum issue in the past has been associated with Taiwan independence and war mongering, but that people now see things differently. According to Chen, people now recognize that referendums are a universal value and a basic right that cannot be denied by any person, political party or state.

Chen has said that before the presidential election next March, the Cabinet will hold referendums on the fate of the partially completed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization (WHO).

As for whether the nation's entry to the WHO was an issue that had a bearing on sovereignty, Chen said, "Medical treatment has no borders. There is no reason why Taiwan should not enter the WHO.

"This problem stems from the over-politicization of the other side," he said.

"If Taiwan could enter the WHO without hindrance, then it wouldn't need to hold a referendum to address this question. But the problem is that Taiwan has fought to gain WHO entry for seven years and has constantly come up against China's obstruction represented by the view that Taiwan's entry to the WHO would amount to a challenge to Beijing's `one China' principle," he said.

That the country should enter the WHO is perfectly right and proper and reflects the will of the nation's 23 million people, Chen said.

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