Thu, Dec 18, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Missile test would trigger sovereignty vote: Chen

CROSS-STRAIT TENSIONS The president said a repeat of Beijing's missile tests could be seen as the kind of provocative act that would warrant a referendum on sovereignty

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has warned China not to test missiles near Taiwan, saying such a move would be considered ``an attack'' that might trigger a referendum on sovereignty, a British newspaper reported yesterday.

Chen's comments in the Financial Times marked an escalation in the heated rhetoric between the two sides across the Taiwan Strait -- and were criticized by the opposition as another example of Chen provoking Beijing.

China also vowed yesterday to "crush" any attempts by Taiwan to seek independence, calling Chen "selfish" and "immoral."

Chen has said that his plans to hold a March 20 referendum -- to demand that China stop pointing hundreds of missiles at Taiwan -- wouldn't touch on sensitive sovereignty issues.

But the Financial Times quoted Chen as saying that if China tests missiles near Taiwan again, the tests would be deemed a provocative act that could prompt him to expand the referendum issue.

provocation

``Yes. Of course it [a missile test] is a provocation. Of course it is an attack,'' Chen was quoted as saying.

China tested missiles near Taiwan in 1996 before the first direct presidential election

About the possibility of expanding the referendum after a missile test, Chen was quoted as saying, ``Of course, we don't want to see this happen. But if it does happen, we won't exclude any possibility.''

Chen also repeated that if China tried to attack, he would drop his ``five noes'' pledge made four years ago when he took office -- that as long as China doesn't use force to change the status quo, there would be no declaration of independence, no changing of Taiwan's name, no push for an independence vote, and no including former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) "special state-to-state" model of cross-strait relations into the Constitution. Chen also promised he won't disband the National Unification Council or rip up guidelines already approved by the group.

In response to opposition criticism of Chen's comments, Presidential Office spokesman James Huang (黃志芳) yesterday said that Chen was simply answering the questions put to him by the Financial Times reporter.

"President Chen gave his answers passively, in response to the reporter's question as to whether China's missile tests near Taiwan could be counted as a kind of provocation," Huang said.

"Under this circumstance, Chen simply replied that if China conducts missile tests near Taiwan as it did in 1996, the missile tests would certainly be a provocation, an attacking action, and therefore contradict the precondition of his `five noes' pledge."

an angry beijing

Meanwhile, a spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office lashed out at Chen at a press conference in Beijing.

"In the face of outrageous splittist activities, we must make necessary preparations to resolutely crush Taiwan independence plots," Li Weiyi, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a press conference in Beijing.

Li said Chen was putting at risk the interests of Taiwan's people to satisfy his own political ambitions.

"In a selfish bid to win re-election, Chen spares no effort to gamble with the immediate interests of the people of Taiwan," he said.

"This is very immoral and has triggered the strong indignation and common condemnation of 1.3 billion Chinese," he said.

The Taiwan Affairs Office also published a policy paper yesterday that calls for an early start to direct cross-strait links.

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