PRESIDENT DEFENDS DECISION TO CALL REFERENDUM
Los Angeles, Feb. 7 (CNA) Republic of China President Chen Shui-bian defended his decision to call a referendum in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last Friday, describing it as a vital next step for Taiwan's emerging democracy.
The paper published the main content of Chen's hour-long interview Saturday on its front page under the title "Taiwan Leader Defends Vote."
According to the paper, Chen rejected international concerns that the proposed referendum is a provocation that endangers the uneasy peace in the Taiwan Strait. He also characterized Beijing's denunciation of the referendum as part of a broader attempt during the last 17 years to intimidate Taiwan's 23 million people as they move along the path of democracy.
Chen is placing two questions in votes for the planned referendum on March 20 to coincide with the presidential election that are as follows: -- "The people of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should mainland China refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?" -- "Would you agree that our government should engage in negotiation with mainland China on the establishment of a peace and stability framework for cross-strait interaction in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples of both sides?"
Chen said that he appreciates the concerns from the international community, particularly the U.S. government and President Bush, and he gave his assurance that the Taiwan issue should not be a liability or a burden to the United States.
If re-elected March 20, Chen pledged to maintain the status quo and a permanent peace across the Taiwan Strait.
Referring to his plan to draft a new constitution for Taiwan by 2006, Chen said that it will be conducted on the basis of the status quo and will involve a series of internal issues aimed mainly at improving government efficiency.
The paper also published an interview with opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan, who will challenge Chen in the upcoming presidential race, in which Lien criticized Chen for taking Taiwan down a dangerous path by calling the referendum and thereby antagonizing Beijing.
Lien said that if he is elected, he will begin a dialogue with Beijing "as soon as the atmosphere is right."
(By Chu Lu-sheng & Huang Kwang-chun)
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