Wed, Jul 02, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Government gives diplomats reasons for referendums

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Members of the diplomatic corps exchanged ideas with officials in Taipei regarding the government's plan to conduct referendums yesterday.

Some diplomatic corp members questioned the necessity of referendums on some issues, sources said yesterday.

"The government gave a very rational explanation of the reason behind the its plan to hold referendums and the technicalities involved," a member of the diplomatic corps said about the unprecedented briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau (高英茂), who hosted the meeting, raised three technical issues involved in the government's push for referendums, a diplomat said under condition of anonymity.

Kau addressed how to set up the procedures to hold the referendums, which touches upon the legal basis for the move, the timing of the referendums, and whether the result of the referendums should be made legally binding or merely advisory, the diplomat said.

Ministry spokesman Richard Shih (石瑞琦) confirmed that Kau had touched upon the issues during the meeting. Shih said the meeting drew the attendance of diplomats from some 44 countries.

During the hour-long meeting, participants asked officials to explain why the officials chose to discuss issues those three issues, Shih said.

According to the diplomat, a participant asked Kau why the government would hold a referendum on Taiwan's World Health Organization (WHO) bid since "obviously" a majority of the people in Taiwan would support the bid.

"He [referring to Kau] agreed that this is not a controversial issue ... But he said it's a way for the people to express their frustration with Taiwan's failed attempt to join the WHO as a result of China's obstructions," the diplomat said.

Shih declined to confirm this exchange.

But Shih highlighted another question from the floor.

"One participant asked what, if Taiwan is a sovereign state, is the government afraid of when it comes to referendums and why is it trying to evade the issue?" Shih said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) cited the Constitution to argue that to hold referendums is a basic right for the people of Taiwan at the beginning of the briefing, sources said.

"He said Taiwan has the legal and moral authority to conduct referendums just like any other democratic country in the world," the diplomat said.

According to Shih, Kau said the government plans to hold referendums on three issues, namely, Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization (WHO), construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and the size of legislature.

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