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Chen calls for creation of cross-strait DMZ

Taiwan Journal

Byline:Lin Fang-yan
        Faced with criticism from home and abroad concerning his call for a referendum on the day of the upcoming presidential election, President Chen Shui-bian held a press conference at the presidential office Feb. 3 to explain his reasons for the decision and to detail some specifics of a "peace and stability framework"--a concept he first proposed in his 2003 New Year's Day message. The specifics call for, among other things, the creation of a demilitarized zone separating Taiwan and China and the establishment of representative offices on each other's soil.

        In a statement issued at the press conference, Chen unveiled the exact wording of the two referendum questions that will be put to the public on the very day of the presidential election.

        The first question will ask Taiwanese people whether or not they agree that the government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's defensive capabilities if China refuses to dismantle its missiles that are targeted at the island. The second question will ask the people of Taiwan if they agree that the government should engage in negotiations with China on the establishment of a "peace and stability" framework for cross-strait interactions.

        The wording of the two questions was approved by the Executive Yuan Feb. 4, after which it was submitted to the Central Election Commission so that that body could begin preparing for the referendum.

        "A referendum is an embodiment of the universal democratic ideal that the people, as vested masters of their homeland, have the fundamental right to determine their own destiny," reads the statement. Chen called for a peace referendum in accordance with the provisions of Article 17 of the Referendum Law, adding that the event is meant to realize the principle of popular sovereignty and prevent China from unilaterally changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait by initiating a military offensive against the island.

        A referendum would demonstrate the collective will of the people of Taiwan and force the Chinese to take the demand for peace seriously, according to the president. He added that the visibility of Taiwan's democratization will also oblige Beijing to accept--albeit reluctantly--the decisions made by Taiwanese citizens, including the results of elections, laws passed by the island's legislature, and decisions reached through referendum.

        In the statement, the president also specified the main elements of the framework of interaction for peace and stability, saying that after the presidential election, his administration would be willing to meet with a special envoy from China to work out ways of promoting cross-strait consultation and negotiation based on "one principle and four major issues." The "one principle" refers to the establishment of peace. "Both Taiwan and China must recognize that maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait is their joint responsibility and should therefore work together to attain the objective of maintaining peace," said the president, adding that any disputes between the two sides must be resolved by peaceful means and that neither side should make unilateral change to the status quo of the Taiwan Strait area.

        The "four issues" refers to the formation of a mechanism for negotiation, cross-strait exchanges based on equality and reciprocity, the establishment of a political relationship, and prevention of armed conflict.

        Special envoys appointed by leaders of the two sides will meet and work toward establishing a channel of direct communication as well as the principles, format, venue, mechanism and priority of issues for subsequent negotiations, the statement reads. To facilitate such negotiations, explained the president, the two sides should have representatives stationed in Taipei and Beijing to make communication convenient.

        As for cross-strait exchanges, Chen suggested that liaison offices on each other's soil could be established to manage the day-to-day affairs that arise from cross-strait exchange. He also called for the mutual recognition of laws and judicial decisions as well as provision of legal protection and judicial assistance to pave the way for expanded cooperation on such issues as handling economic and technological exchange, fighting cross-strait crime, and settling fishing disputes.

        In terms of the political relationship, the president suggested that the two sides, given their common historical, cultural and ethnic background, form political ties based on mutual respect. Steps that could be conducive to such a relationship might include setting rules to govern bilateral interaction within the international community and not interfering with each other's diplomatic affairs, the statement reads.

        The fourth issue is the prevention of military conflict. In addition to the establishment of a demilitarized zone and the prohibition of military and economic blockades, Chen also recommended setting up rules and protocols to govern fishing activities and military exercises which, among other things, would help prevent minor skirmishes from escalating into a major conflict.

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