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CROSS-STRAIT TIES BECOME FOCUS OF REFERENDUM DEBATE

2004-03-14 22:59:38

    Taipei, March 14 (CNA) Cross-Taiwan Strait relations became the focus of the final round of 10 referendum debates Sunday, which pitted the nation's top mainland policy planner against a sharp-tongued independent lawmaker.

    In the 70-minute live TV debate on whether Taiwan should negotiate a viable mechanism with Beijing for peaceful interaction, Mainland Affairs Council Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen said cross-strait relations are dynamic and need a viable mechanism for long-term engagements to forge trust and avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment. "What we want to negotiate is an agreement on the establishment of a viable interactive mechanism to handle dynamic cross-strait relations, not to negotiate an ultimate solution to our political dispute," Tsai explained.

    In her view, Tsai said, cross-strait issue is not an issue regarding independence or unification. "It's an issue regarding the definition of relationship between two sovereign entities," she explained.

    Under mainland China's pressure, Tsai said Taiwan has spent much more time than other countries on enacting a referendum law. "Now that we have a referendum act to allowing for the holding of our first-ever nationwide referendum, we should treasure it."

    She pointed out that a referendum result favoring dialogue would bolster Taiwan's position in any talks with Beijing, since it would show that the Taipei government is backed by the public. "History has told us that the smaller party in negotiations needs the support of all the people to turn things to their advantage," Tsai said. "With people's support, the Chinese Communists would have no opportunity to force us to unify and our government will have more confidence in negotiations," she added.

    However, Legislator Sisy Chen, who is also a flamboyant TV political talk-show host, argued against the unprecedented referendum.

    Sisy Chen claimed that President Chen Shui-bian broke the law when he called for the referendum, to be held March 20 alongside the presidential election.

    She argued that the president can only legally call such a referendum when the island's sovereignty faces an imminent threat from a foreign force. She said there is no immediate danger from mainland China that makes Saturday's vote necessary.

    Sisy Chen also disagreed with President Chen's view that the referendum would help encourage Beijing to begin negotiations with Taiwan. "If the two sides can just sip tea and chat, then they would have held hundreds of rounds of talks already," said Sisy Chen, who was once the spokeswoman for the president's Democratic Progressive Party, but has become one of its sharpest critics.

    She said that before talks can happen, Taiwan must find a way to meet Beijing's demand that Taiwan accept its "one China" policy. The president has refused to agree to this.

    In her view, Sisy Chen said cross-strait issues are too complicated to be resolved through a referendum. "Cross-strait dispute will continue raging no matter whether we cast or not cast our ballots in this referendum," she claimed, adding that she hopes local voters will not take part in this referendum.

    The referendum will ask voters two questions whether Taiwan needs to beef up its anti-missile defenses if China refuses to remove hundreds of missiles pointing at the island and whether Taiwan should seek talks with Beijing to set up a "peace and stability framework."

    The Tsai-Chen debate was the final round of a series of 10 such events required by the newly passed Referendum Act.

(By Sofia Wu)

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