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GROUPS TO VISIT U.S., JAPAN, EUROPE, SOUTHEAST ASIA OVER REFERENDUM

2004-01-06 20:21:44

    Taipei, Jan. 6 (CNA) Delegations will head for the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia and Japan from this Saturday to elaborate on Taiwan's planned referendum, which has raised concern that it might lead to a change of the status quo between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

    Kang Ning-hsiang, secretary-general of the National Security Council, which is coordinated the overseas trips, presided Tuesday over a meeting for the delegates prior to their departure.

    Government agencies, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the National Security Bureau and the Government Information Office, also took part in the meeting.

    The group members first listened to reports by MAC Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen and Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Kau Ying-mao, then expressed their own views and finalized the position papers the delegations will take with them.

    Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Joseph Wu will head the delegation bound for the United States, while Legislator Parris Chang of the ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) will lead the group traveling to Europe and Antonio Chiang, vice secretary-general of the National Security Council, will head the group to Southeast Asia. The members of the group that will visit Japan have yet to be confirmed.

    Apart from the group traveling to Japan, which will leave later, all the groups will leave Jan. 10 and are expected to return between Jan. 20 and Jan. 21. The groups will then collate the opinions collected during the trips.

    Taiwan is a democratic country with democratic values, Chang said, referring to the holding of a "defensive referendum" to gauge public opinion on whether mainland China should withdraw its missiles targeting Taiwan and renounce the use of force. He said this represents a strengthening of the nation's democracy. "At the same time, we attach great importance to concern by our allies and friends," Chang said. "We want them to understand that the referendum will not change the cross-strait status quo and will not involve a vote on independence vs. unification." "We will listen to their views on the wording and agenda of the referendum and report them to the government for a final version, " Chang said, adding that "we will not be dogmatic and will show concern about the interests and views of our allies."

    The position paper will follow the direction that "Taiwan will hold a referendum, but the content and agenda of the referendum will take into consideration their views," Chang said.

    DPP Legislator Chen Tang-shan, a member of the delegation bound for the U.S., said that Kau and Tsai have explained clearly the views of the government and of other countries on the issue to prepare them for what questions they can be expected to encounter during their meetings with government officials, parliamentarians, think tanks and opinion leaders.

    Chen said that United States President George W. Bush's words that the U.S. will oppose anything that could lead to a change of the status quo have caused great pressure and now even Japan, as well as some Southeast Asian countries, have expressed concern over the referendum issue.

    Chen said it is important to find out whether the pressure has been caused by the United States or mainland China and said this will have to be ascertained during the trip to the United States. The delegation is scheduled to visit Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco.

    He said that "we can understand if it was China putting on the pressure, but it is more serious if it is the United States, a strong ally of Taiwan, that has created the pressure."

    He also said that President Chen's "five noes" pledge in his 2000 inaugural speech, which included no referendum concerning a change of the nation's status quo, will be a major focus of the trip to the United States.

    He said that the referendum is crucial to Taiwan's future and democracy in view of the exercise of a direct democracy and the establishment of a mechanism of exchange between Taiwan and the world, especially between Taiwan and the mainland. "The people of Taiwan want only peace. They do not want to trouble the international community and make others think that we are troublemakers," Chen said.

    Kang, meanwhile, said that the groups are not aiming to debate the issue, but will listen to the views of other countries in a rational and open manner.

(By Lilian Wu)

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