Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Referendum at top of agenda for delegation to US


A high-level delegation headed by Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) wrapped up a three-day visit to Washington yesterday after a series of meetings with senior George W. Bush administration officials, think tanks and others seeking to clear the air on a number of issues that have strained US-Taiwan relations in recent months.

The Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration's plans to hold referendums, Taiwan's failure to fund purchases of promised US arms systems and the lack of progress in combating intellectual property piracy were three key issues believed to be at the head of the meetings' agendas, sources and observers said.

The delegation kept a low profile and scrupulously avoided the press during the visit. Both sides had wanted to keep the trip secret but it was leaked to the press earlier this week.

While neither side would give any details, Randall Schriver, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, indicated that the referendum issue was one of the topics discussed.

"It's something we know is a very sensitive topic, and it's something that we are watching. And we're willing to hear from the Taiwan side why they think it's important," Schriver told Taiwanese reporters who approached him after he made a public appearance Thursday morning.

Shriver said the referendum decision "is a decision that Taiwan is going to have to make for itself. But I think in terms of the way it's been debated in public in Taiwan, we haven't seen a real compelling need" to conduct the referendums that Chen is currently considering.

"It's been domestic politics, maybe that's what's driving it. If so, it's not necessarily something that we have to proactively support," Schriver said.

However, Schriver declined to discuss any of the other issues that might have come up during the talks with the Chiou delegation.

Washington's reaction to the referendum issue is linked in the eyes of some observers to the arms purchases and Taiwan's overall security posture.

As some US officials see it, Taiwan should not proceed with referendums, which are potentially provocative to China, without assuring its own defensive capability to deal with Beijing's reaction to such provocations, sources said.

The intellectual property rights issue has been a long-standing source of irritation in Washington, which has suspended high-level trade visits between the two capitals in view of the lack of progress by Taipei in halting the illegal copying and distribution of videos, music and other intellectual property.

The delegation was scheduled to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

It was also believed that Stephen Hadley, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's deputy, was on the list. But it was not known which US trade officials the Taiwanese met.

The group also met with members of the Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and other think tanks.

Yesterday, two of the delegation members, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Michael Kau and National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨), were to fly to Monterey, California, to take part in the annual Taiwan-US Strategic Talks, an important channel of communications on US-Taiwan military relationships.

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