Thu, Jan 01, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Japan's criticism of referendum has Lee outraged

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was outraged by the Japanese government expressing its concern over President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan to hold a defensive referendum on March 20, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Ho Ming-hau (何敏豪) said yesterday.

A source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Lee, who reportedly discussed the referendum with visiting former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori last week, was disgusted by Japan's de facto ambassador Katsuhisa Uchida's behavior.

On Monday, Uchida reportedly paid a visit to Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) to express Japan's disapproval of the referendum.

On Tuesday, the TSU protested against Japan's move, saying the country should not interfere in Taiwan's internal affairs and declared Uchida persona non grata.

Uchida's visit to the Presidential Office prompted the Alliance to Campaign for Rectifying the Name of Taiwan, a pro-independence group, to protest in front of the Taipei Office of the Japanese Interchange Association, Japan's de facto embassy in Taiwan.

Ironically, heavyweights in the group such as national policy advisers Huang Tien-lin (黃天麟) and Ng Chiau-tong (黃昭堂) are known for their close links to Japan. They were Mori's banquet guests during his Taiwan visit.

Ho, stressing that Lee is the spiritual leader of the TSU, decried the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs' bowing to China in dealing with the referendum issue.

In 2001, Mori's then-minister of foreign affairs Yohei Kono opposed granting Lee a Japanese visa to receive heart surgery in Osaka.

In the face of Kono's opposition, Lee scolded Japan's yielding to China, saying it was a "coward like a rat."

Kono finally surrendered to Mori, who granted Lee the visa despite great pressure from home and abroad.

"Why should a grand country like Japan succumb to China's pressure and manipulation?" Ho asked, adding that Lee believed the Japanese people did not fully understand the referendum.

To educate the Japanese public about the March vote, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan issued a press release explaining the referendum to media outlets yesterday.

China, having learned that military intimidation in Taiwan's 1996 and 2000 presidential elections failed to deliver the desired results, is now pushing Japan and the US to pressure Taiwan to give up the referendum, Ho said.

A government source with close ties to Japan said Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered Uchida to deliver the message about the referendum in order to allay China's discontent over several recent high-profile Taiwan-Japan diplomatic events.

Uchida, the source said, is actually the most pro-Taiwan of Japanese envoys over the years and last month even braved his ministry's displeasure to hold the first local celebration of Japanese Emperor Akihito's birthday since Japan severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1972.

China repeated warnings against the Akihito celebration and Mori's visit, which created a positive image of Japan's relations with Taiwan. To counterbalance the effects of the two events, Japan decided to voice its concerns about the referendum, officials said.

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