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Taiwan's President Plans 'Defensive' Referendum - 2003-12-06


Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian says he plans to call a referendum in March asking voters to demand that China stop pointing missiles at the island.

The Taiwanese leader made his remarks first to the New York Times newspaper, and a presidential spokesman in Taipei later confirmed his statements to the Associated Press.

In a Friday interview, President Chen Shui-bian told The New York Times the referendum would be held in March, when the Taiwanese go to the polls for national elections.

Mr. Chen told the newspaper that the wording of what he called a "defensive" referendum would demand that China renounce all use of force against the island.

Beijing, which has been warning against any such referendum, issued a statement in newspapers calling Mr. Chen's plans "an extremely dangerous provocation." It warned that China would "spare no efforts to maintain...territorial integrity" if Taiwan were to seek outright independence.

Taipei alleges that China has hundreds of missiles pointed at the island. Mr. Chen said the referendum would be meant as a protective measure that would show to the world that China is a growing military threat to the Island.

Taiwan has been governed separately since Chinese Nationalists fled there in 1949, following a civil war that ended with the communist takeover of the mainland. Beijing has often threatened to invade Taiwan and unite it with the mainland by force if Taipei declares independence.

Mr. Chen, whose long-standing support for independence has been an element of his re-election bid, upset Beijing recently when his supporters in parliament passed a referendum law. The law allows the president to call referenda, but only in limited cases where the island is facing an external threat that may jeopardize what the bill terms "national sovereignty."

China fears Mr. Chen might try to use the law to move toward outright independence - an allegation that the Taiwanese leader denies.

China has stepped up its threats to Taiwan and has also warned the United States to stop selling weapons to the island. China plans to press the issue when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao meets with U.S. officials, including President Bush, Tuesday in Washington.

The United States is the chief weapons supplier to Taiwan, but has consistently stuck to the one-China policy first pronounced by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday reaffirmed the U.S. position, saying Washington remains committed to the one-China policy and does not support Taiwan's independence.

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