Sat, Jan 07, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Ma backtracks on referendum proposal

NOT PARTY POLICY A day after telling local media that he favored a referendum on establishing cross-strait direct links, the chairman said that was just one option

By Mo Yan-chih and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Yang Chung-ying, Pan Wei-kang, and Tseng Yung-chuan, left to right, yesterday hold a press conference to call on the public to put their unification-independence ideology aside and push for a referendum on direct cross-strait air links.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that his proposal for a referendum on direct cross-strait air links was just one option, and was not yet his party's policy. He also rejected criticism of fawning over China with his proposal.

Ma made the proposal late Thursday night during an interview with the Chinese-language United Daily News, saying that his party would take the initiative in amending the Statute Governing the Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) in the current or next legislative session.

But he changed his tune yesterday, and denied coming up with the proposal.

"I did not say the KMT will take the initiative, but we will push for the amendment, and the reason I brought up the issue was because of some suggestions from experts," he said yesterday morning.

Ma later repeated that the proposal was merely one option for improving the country's economy, and criticized the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for ignoring public opinion.

"Most people support direct air links, especially the business sector," he said yesterday afternoon at Taipei City Hall. "But the government just can't figure out its policy priorities, and it pushes for constitutional re-engineering when what people want is a better economy."

While stressing that there are legal and safety concerns surrounding direct air links and that referendums should never be used as a tool for shifting government policies, Ma said that a referendum could be a way to reflect public opinion when the government fails to respond to decisions made in the legislature.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday said he seconded Ma's proposal to push for a national referendum on direct cross-strait air links.

Responding to Ma's pressure on the government to implement cross-strait direct links, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said the Taiwanese government cannot make any breakthroughs on its own.

Wu said that Ma should urge China, which he said has been refusing to talk with the government on the matter, to enter negotiations with Taiwan.

"Not pushing China to talk to Taiwan, but only exerting pressure on the government, is putting the cart before the horse," Wu said at a MAC press conference yesterday.

Wu said that the government's stated policy was to implement cross-strait direct links, a fact proven by the government's white paper on cross-strait direct links released on Aug. 15, 2003.

Wu said the government welcomed the mechanism of referendums to settle any controversial issues within the nation, including the issue of direct links.

Wu, however, said the obstacles to implementing direct links were on the Chinese side, not on Taiwan's side.

The main issue is negotiation of aviation rights, as there are no direct routes between Taiwan and China, Wu said.

"How can the new routes be decided without bilateral negotiations?" Wu said.

Meanwhile, the KMT caucus yesterday said direct links between Taiwan and China must be implemented as soon as possible.

"The interruption across the Taiwan Strait has slowed down the growth of Taiwan's economy. The KMT will seek public support directly to promote direct links between Taiwan and China," said KMT Legislator Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權).

KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) said the latest statistics show that there were some 3.5 million frequent travelers between Taiwan and China every year.

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