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REFERENDUM SIGNIFICANT, PART OF DEMOCRACY: CABINET SPOKESMAN

2004-01-31 14:33:59

    Taipei, Jan. 31 (CNA) Taiwan's holding of a referendum March 20 alongside the presidential election is significant, part of democracy and has connotations for public policy, a government spokesman said Saturday.

    Executive Yuan Spokesman Lin Chia-lung made the remarks after a top United States diplomat questioned the motives of President Chen Shui-bian's plan to hold the referendum, the first high-ranking response from the United States since Chen unveiled Jan. 16 the two questions to be put to a referendum vote.

    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in Beijing Friday that Taiwan's planned referendum "raised questions." Noting that Washington is still studying the two questions very carefully, he said: "It's not just the written words that will be in front of one on the paper, but it's the content of them and how they will be used domestically."

    Armitage described the situation as very "fluid" and said that Washington is "opposed to any unilateral action by either side that alters the status quo." "As much as we respect Taiwan's democracy, the referendum in question does raise some questions, " Armitage said, adding that "referendum is generally reserved for items or issues that are either very divisive or very difficult, and the wording I've seen of the referendum seems to be neither divisive nor difficult."

    In response to this, Lin described Armitage's comments as neutral and said they should not be read out of context or construed as opposing the referendum. "Holding the referendum has a legal basis and is part of democracy," Lin said.

    He added that the Taiwan people are concerned about the missile threat posed by mainland China and claimed that both of the referendum questions -- whether to strengthen Taiwan's anti-missile defenses in the face of the mainland's missile threat and whether to establish a "peaceful and stable" framework for cross-strait interaction -- are "important, significant and have connotations with regard to public policy."

    On Armitage's concerns, Lin said that "all democratic countries, including the United States, " have a positive opinion of and respect Taiwan's democratic development, " but they are concerned that the push for a referendum will trigger a dramatic response from the mainland and will affect stability in the Taiwan Strait. "We fully understand such concerns, " Lin said, but added that "the point is that mainland China has never given up its threat of the use of force and its missile deployment."

    Lin said that Taiwan's promotion of a referendum takes into consideration Beijing's possible responses and that the government will do everything possible to communicate with its allies and with the United States.

    He stressed that referendum is a major milestone in Taiwan's democratic development and claimed that it will help solve major controversy. "Cross-strait issues are of course major issues, which have public policy connotations," he added.

    He said that people should not exaggerate or distort Washington's response, adding that Chen's campaign to elaborate on the referendum should allow people at home and abroad to understand that the referendum will "strengthen Taiwan's democracy and solve Taiwan's major controversy."

(By Lilian Wu)

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