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2004-02-19 20:04:36

    Taipei, Feb. 19 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian reiterated Thursday that no-one should "distort" the comments by the United States on Taiwan's referendum, which will be held March 20 alongside the presidential election.

    The president made the remarks in response to misgivings about the referendum voiced in a one-hour radio interview on the UFO station by Chou Yu-ko, a noted local talk show host.

    The president said that the lack of U.S. support for the referendum does not mean that Washington opposes the referendum and that the United States is only against a unilateral change of the status quo through referendum.

    He noted that recent concerns by the United States and Japan were uttered mainly because they are worried that the status quo in the Taiwan Strait will be changed. This, he said, is "not tantamount to opposing referendum and no-one should misconstrue the true meaning."

    The two referendum questions concerning the strengthening of the nation's defense capability and the reopening of cross-strait dialogues "will not involve the changing of Taiwan's status quo, " Chen said, and are aimed mainly at "pursuing a lasting peace in the Taiwan Strait and avoiding any change in the status quo."

    This is in tune with U.S. President George W. Bush's comment last December that "we oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo" after meeting with mainland Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in December 2003, Chen said.

    He stressed that he is acting according to a 1999 resolution by his Democratic Progressive Party that stipulates clearly that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign nation and that any change of the nation's status quo should be decided through referendum.

    The president described himself as "a responsible national leader" and said he listens to views from all sides, including those from the United States and mainland China. Beijing is worried that the referendum might set a precedent that will lead to a referendum on independence.

    He said that Lee Yuan-tseh, the respected Nobel laureate and president of Academia Sinica, the nation's highest research institute, has agreed to serve as a co-convener of a team to promote a cross-strait interaction framework for peace and stability. "The other convener will be a business tycoon well-versed in cross-strait affairs, " the president said, although he would not divulge the name because it would be a sensitive topic so close to the presidential election.

    Chen reiterated an earlier proposal to station representatives on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, adding that after the election, he will immediately begin to promote the framework. The team will then discuss a suitable representative with the hope of deciding upon one by May 20.

    He also said that casting votes on the referendum questions will not affect the presidential election and denied that his referendum call is merely an election campaign strategy.

    He claimed that his referendum call is legal and that arranging the balloting to coincide with the presidential election will save money and manpower without creating confusion.

    Chen also said he wants to debate with opposition Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan -- his sole challenger in the presidential election -- on referendum issues, claiming that "the truth will come out more clearly through debate" and will also help the public make their referendum choices.

    However, Chen declined to accept a challenge from Jaw Shau-kong, UFO chairman, former legislator and former rival in the 1994 three-way Taipei mayoral election that Chen Shui-bian won, to face off government representatives in 10 public TV debates sponsored by the Central Election Commission (CEC) between Feb. 20 and March 19, saying that their positions were not "matched."

    Jaw, independent Legislator Sisy Chen, writer Li Ao and various others collected enough signatures Wednesday to allow them to represent those opposed to the referendum against a pro-referendum side organized by the Cabinet to debate the referendum.

    The CEC had originally wanted to invite opposition political parties to serve as the "nay" side, but they were not interested, pointing out that they are not against the content of the referendum but rather against the illegal manner in which Chen called it. The opposition political parties also fear that if they continue to focus on the issue, it will divert voters' attention from their campaign theme of improving the economy.

    Turning to recent reports on the first lady's major stock market transactions, the president said that although the transactions were legal, as a "conspicuous" first lady, people might suspect her of insider trading, which he said "is not worthwhile at all."

    He said that his wife will refrain from further stock transactions before March 20 and that all his assets will be put into trust after the election.

(By Lilian Wu)


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