Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Issues relating to referendum debated with US

NOT `DEFENSIVE' Issues that might be posed in President Chen's `preventive referendum' are being discussed to ease possible US concerns

BY Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan and the US have been communicating on issues that might be put to the "preventive referendum" that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has proposed holding along with next year's presidential election, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) said yesterday.

The Presidential Office has replaced the word "defensive" with "preventive" when it refers to the type of referendum that Article 17 of the new Referendum Law (公民投票法) allows the president to call in certain circumstances.

At a tea party in honor of people who volunteer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), Chien said the US and Taiwan have been negotiating on the issues, but he declined to reveal what the issues are. Chen is scheduled to announce the issues tomorrow.

In a gesture seen as designed to ease US concerns about the referendum agenda and end media speculation over changes in Taiwan-US relations, Chen on Thursday told visiting US Senator Jeff Bingaman that the defensive referendum has nothing to do with Taiwan's independence.

Chien, who is heading a task force that will monitor Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's (溫家寶) visit to Washington next week, said the MOFA has been reviewing relations among China, Taiwan and the US.

"The US policy toward Taiwan has not changed. The US will hold to its one-China policy and the Three Communiques. It hopes the cross-strait problem can be solved through peace talks," Chien said.

Responding to concerns about whether the US might shift its Taiwan policy as a consequence of Wen's Washington visit, Chien emphasized the US and Taiwan will "share information."

Chen said that Taiwan cannot participate in the US administration's process of setting Taiwan policy prior to Wen's visit, but the US will share information with Taiwan before and after Wen's trip, Chien said.

Stressing that the ministry has a full understanding of the development of Taiwan-US relations, Chien said the top issues in the US-China talks during Wen's visit will be trade, North Korea, antiterrorism and Taiwan.

"The US and China's focus during the talks will be not be totally the same," Chien said.

As for the recent US remarks on Taiwan's referendum law, Chien said the frequent US comments on the issue are "a normal thing" and described Taiwan-US ties as "stable."

The frequency of US comments on the Taiwan issue is related to Wen's US trip and Taiwan's presidential election, Chien said.

Asked why Wen decided not to bring to Washington any officials from the military, or the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) under China's State Council, Chien said the ministry will explain this after Wen's visit.

Meanwhile, Chen Ming-tong (陳明通), vice chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, said the council has "no comment" on the absence of military and TAO officials in Wen's entourage.

Chen Ming-tong repeated the council's call for China to understand that the establishment of the referendum mechanism is a necessary step for Taiwan to deepen its democracy.

The Chinese authorities have made "sharp noises" on the referendum issue because of its misunderstanding or even distortion of Taiwan's efforts toward sounder democracy, said Chen Ming-tong.

"Taiwan's cross-strait policy has not changed," Chen Ming-tong said.

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