Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Referendum is `not an election trick'

TACTICS In reaction to the US Deputy Secretary of State's questioning of the motives behind the referendum, a Cabinet spokesman said it addresses issues of great concern

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The referendum proposed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is meaningful and necessary because it is conducive to the nation's democratic development and helps resolve such major controversial issues as cross-strait relations, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said yesterday.

"National identification and China's military threat are among the issues most Taiwanese people are concerned about," Lin said. "The planned referendum serves as a pivotal step toward the nation's democratic development and helps resolve such contentious issues as national identification and cross-strait relations."

Lin was commenting yesterday morning on US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's questioning of the motives behind the planned referendum.

Following meetings with Chinese leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), Armitage on Friday told reporters in Beijing that referendums are generally reserved for issues that are either very divisive or very difficult.

"The wording I've seen for the referendum seems to be neither divisive nor difficult. So I think it raises some questions about the motives of those who want to put it forward," he said.

Armitage suggested that the referendum was part of Chen's election tactics, saying this would explain why he is moving ahead with his plans despite the US' words of caution.

In the referendum, scheduled for March 20 to coincide with the presidential poll, people will be asked whether the nation should strengthen its defenses in the face of China's missile threat, and whether Taiwan should hold talks with Beijing to establish a peaceful and stable framework for cross-strait interactions.

Lin said that, after carefully studying and analyzing Armitage's statements, national security and diplomatic agencies concluded that the questions did not represent any significant change in Taiwan-US relations.

"The US government has said that it respects Taiwan's democracy and I don't think it's appropriate for the public and the media to `exaggerate' or even `twist' Armitage's comments about the planned referendum to cater to the interests of particular parties," Lin said.

He added that Armitage's comments were to be regarded as neutral, because he made it clear that the US government was still stu-dying the wording, as well as the context, of the referendum, since it is a fluid situation.

"We're not worried about his comments, because we realize that what he said was to reiterate the US policy, which is still based on its `one-China' principle, the three Sino-US Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act," Lin said. "President [George W.] Bush has also made it clear that the US government is opposed to any unilateral action which alters the status quo by either side."

Lin, however, dismissed Armitage's insinuation that the referendum was part of Chen's election tactics.

"The presidential poll and the referendum are two very different things. It's impossible for us to stop our democratic development simply because of elections," Lin said.

Lin said that the government "fully understood" the concern of the US about the planned referendum and would continue to negotiate with the US government.

"We fully understand that the US is concerned that the referendum might cause a dramatic reaction from China and that it might affect the stability across the Taiwan Strait," Lin said.

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