Thu, Feb 12, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Congress divided over referendum

HOT POTATO Neither side of the US body appears likely to initiate a resolution ahead of the March poll to counter President George W. Bush's condemnation

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Prospects that the US Congress will pass a resolution supporting President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plan for a referendum have diminished markedly in recent weeks and observers say that no such resolution is possible before the March 20 presidential election.

Members of Congress who traditionally have supported Tai-wan unquestionably have engaged in a back-door debate over whether such a referendum should be considered and "the consensus at this time is not to do anything," one well-placed congressional source told the Taipei Times.

Taiwan's supporters in Washington have been seeking congressional support for a referendum that would counter President George W. Bush's comments on Dec. 9 during a news conference with Chinese Pre-mier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) opposing the referendum.

There is a feeling "that something has to be done" in response, a lobbyist for Taiwan said.

However, "many members have strong reservations. There's a lot of reluctance to move forward," a congressional source said. He noted that if a resolution on such a high-profile issues were introduced and failed to pass, it "just makes you look weak."

A recent statement by Repre-sentative Henry Hyde, the strongly pro-Taiwan chairman of the House International Relations Committee, that he would not let his committee pass any resolution dealing with sensitive political issues before March 20 election, may have killed chances for a strong resolution any time soon.

Hyde was said to be concerned about the impact on the election that any strong pre-poll congressional resolution might have. As a result, Taiwan's supporters are taking what they describe as a "wait an see attitude."

It's "a matter of timing," one said.

"I don't think there will be a resolution [introduced]," one congressional source said. "If there was one, it would have happened by now."

Taiwan's backers have been trying to interest Congress in a resolution that would embody a broad declaration of support for Taiwan and its democracy, and which would include a provision supporting Chen's referendum. They have been unable to find sufficiently powerful sponsors to introduce the legislation in either house of Congress.

Robert Sutter, a professor at Georgetown University, is also doubtful that Congress would enact any strong pro-Taiwan measure this year. He made his comments in an address to a Washington seminar on the March election that was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the US-Taiwan Business Council.

Afterwards, he told the Taipei Times that while a bland resolution might be introduced and passed, the lawmakers would not enact one with any teeth.

"The question is what it will say and how broad will be the support if it says anything controversial. If it looks like an attack on the administration's position, if it looks like it is supporting a Taiwan effort against the administration, then it will be much harder to get a lot of support," he said.

The resolution sought by Tai-wan's supporters would endorse Chen's plan for a referendum on China's missile threat, demand Beijing renounce the use of force against Taiwan and recognize Taiwan's separate status from China, according to people familiar with efforts to frame a resolution.

It would be based on a bill approved nearly unanimously by the House of Representatives in July 1998 in response to then US president Bill Clinton's "three noes" declaration during a visit to Shanghai the previous month.

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