Chen Shui-bian defies warning from Bush

Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian vowed Wednesday to proceed with a referendum on relations with the Chinese mainland next March despite pressure to shelve the vote from the White House, which issued an unprecedented rebuke of Chen, the Washington Post reported.

Chen, in a meeting with US Representative Republican Dan Burton, said Taiwan was committed to moving ahead with the referendum on March 20, 2004, the day Taiwanese will vote in a "presidential" election, according to James Huang, Chen's spokesman.

The referendum would demand that Beijing withdraw all missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounce the use of force against the island. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told US President George W. Bush in the White House on Tuesday that China will stick to peaceful means to seek reunification as long as "there is a glimmer of hope.'' Wen is on an official visit to the United States.

Beijing has long been warning that a war will certainly break out if Chen Shui-bian dares to announce independence. Since Chen Shui-bian planned to conduct the referendum in October, tens of thousands of Chinese readers have bombarded him in the popular website chatrooms, including sina.com and sohu.com, supporting Beijing's hardline policy.

Wen told Bush that Chen's attempt to resort to referenda of various kinds as an excuse to pursue Taiwan independence, which China and Chinese people cannot tolerate.

President Bush said that he opposed the referendum plan and that it appeared Chen wanted to change the nature of the relationship between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

The US Government "opposes any unilateral decision'' by either sides of Taiwan Straits "to change the status quo, and the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose,'' said Bush.

Chen's remarks to go on with the referendum place Taiwan squarely in conflict with the United States and could spark a crisis that would hurt Taiwan's relations with its most powerful backer, the Washington Post said.

The rebuke from Bush also puts Chen in a difficult position and could hurt his chances for reelection, the newspaper said. Chen is running a tight race against Lien Chan, the Nationalist Party candidate, whom he beat in 2000.

Michael Swaine, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said White House criticism of Chen amounted to the most serious diplomatic crisis for Taiwan since 1979, when the United States broke ties with Taipei and established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Relations between Taiwan and the mainland have deteriorated following moves by Chen that analysts said were designed to boost his prospects at the polls by antagonizing Beijing.

Su Chi, a top Nationalist Party adviser to Lien, said he was not surprised Chen planned to push ahead with the referendum despite US opposition. Su said Chen Shui-bian was motivated by desperation because he was slipping in the polls.

"We think this is a dangerous strategy because it invites intervention" from the United States and from Beijing, he said. "We want neither."

Source: agencies



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