Mon, Jan 05, 2004 - Page 3 News List

US opposition expected to ease

STATUS QUO A source at the Presidential Office believes the US will warm to the `defensive referendum' once it knows the the exact wording of the question

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The US is expected to drop its opposition to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan for a "defensive referendum" once the question has been finalized, a source from the Presidential Office told the Taipei Times.

"It is the uncertainty of what President Chen is going to do next, not Taiwan's democratic progress, that is not accepted by the US government," the source said.

"It means that what the US government is really concerned about is whether Chen plans a second step following the referendum," he said.

Noting that Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) has said that "the next three to five months will be the key phase in the relationship between Taiwan and the US," the source said both countries will have presidential elections this year and that the two governments must trust each other.

Chen has said that one of his achievements as president has been progress in relations with the US. But Chen's style has also caused frictions.

Chen has made several influential statements since he brought up his proposal of "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait.

In June last year, Chen said he would hold a referendum on construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and on entry to the World Health Organization (WHO). The elections were to coincide with the presidential election.

In September, Chen announced plans to push for a new constitution.

He also announced his plan for a "defensive referendum," which Beijing believes will be a step toward Taiwan's independence.

A high-ranking official at the Presidential Office admitted that none of the plans had gone through a complete discussion with Chen's aides, nor had they been explained to the US government.

He said Chen made his political commitments by his personal volition amid the considerable stress of the presidential election.

"President Chen certainly will have to pay for it, as to the US government's viewpoint and interest," the aide said. "But given the mainstream public opinion and the democratic progress of Taiwan, Chen's proposals are unavoidable issues."

"As Taiwan's leader, Chen must point out a direction without fear and pledge to take responsibility for his people," he said.

After making the announcements, Chen sent delegations of senior government officials -- including heads of the National Security Council, the Mainland Affairs Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- to the US to explain Taiwan's status and to reassure Washington of Chen's commitment to the "five noes" pledge.

"Basically, communications between Taiwan and the US remain stable and unimpeded," the official said. "We fully understand the US concerns about Taiwan. The key point is that Taiwan needs to bring up its concrete promises, such as the topic and content of a `defensive referendum,' what Chen will do after March 20 as well as the government's commitment for the following four years.

"In short, as US President [George W.] Bush is set to bid for a second term of office, Taiwan cannot become an unstable element," the senior official said.

Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said the international community always stresses its own interests. Wu said Taiwanese will be increasingly incapable of enduring the world's unfair treatment of restraining Taiwan and ignoring China's rudeness.

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