Thu, Mar 04, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Poet battles politician over anti-missile referendum

By Jewel Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Poet Chan Chao-li, right, urges the government to pay more attention to people's welfare after finishing the second referendum debate on the opposing side yesterday. He argued that there was no urgency for Taiwan to increase its anti-missile defense.

PHOTO: CNA

The second referendum debate took place yesterday as Deputy Secretary-General to the Presid-ential Office Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) faced off against Chan Chao-li (詹朝立), a poet and activist on behalf of farmers and fishermen.

The poet and the politician traded verbal blows over their stance on the first referendum question proposed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁): "If China refuses to withdraw the missiles targeted at Taiwan and does not give up its military threats, do you agree that the government should buy more anti-missile weapons and equipment to strengthen Taiwan's defense capabilities?"

Central Election Commission (CEC) member Chi Jeen-nan (紀鎮南) presided over the debate while a panel of three academics moderated the discussion.

Arguing on behalf of the "yes" side to the referendum, Wu said in his opening statement that the referendum that will be held on March 20 will be an important milestone in the course of Taiwan's struggle for a democratic system.

Wu said that in the past, many democracy activists were persecuted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government as they battled to defend their rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association in the Martial Law era.

"Now some of those same dissidents are serving in the ruling party and are continuing their struggle by trying to give the people of Taiwan their first opportunity to hold a referendum," Wu added.

However, Wu said the authoritarians in the KMT were still opposed to the progress of democracy.

"When he was interviewed by the Washington Post last November, the KMT leader even claimed that Taiwan was not facing any threat, even though China has deployed nearly 500 missiles," Wu said.

"According to an article in the Harvard Asia Pacific Review, because China bought weapons from Russia and Israel and has steadily increased its military puchases, the United States is worried that China could seriously destabilize security in the Asia-Pacific area," Wu said. Wu did not mention that he was the author of an article in the most recent edition of the Review.

"Therefore, Taiwan has to strengthen its defense capabilities and its people's security awareness," Wu said. "We can reinforce people's awareness of defense issues as well as our national defense capabilities through the referendum."

"The success of the referendum will enhance Taiwan's military strategies in the future and inform the international community about the common vision of the people of Taiwan: We want peace, and down with the missile threats."

Wu said the international media provided good coverage of the rally on Saturday, which was a good lesson that the people of Taiwan should express their views loudly and with unity.

"We can say to our grandchildren with pride one day that we voted in the referendum," said Wu. "Let us vote for the referendum on March 20 and make history."

Chan, speaking in opposition to the referendum question, said that he was disillusioned with the upcoming referendum because it was tied to the presidential election campaign.

"It is a referendum that the government insisted on launching, therefore people should be opposed to it," Chan said.

Chan argued that since many world powers, including the US and France, have said that they were opposed to Taiwan's referendum, Taiwan should not try to hold the controversial poll.

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