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Taiwan's President Rejects Warnings from Beijing, Washington Over Referendum Plan - 2003-12-13

Rejecting the warnings of both Beijing and Washington, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian says he will go ahead with plans to hold a controversial referendum next year. Mr. Chen made his own wishes about independence quite clear.

President Chen went on the counter-attack, telling a congress of his Democratic Progressive Party why he still plans to hold the controversial referendum next March, despite warnings by President Bush and the Chinese leadership.

He reiterated that what he has called a "defensive referendum" will call on Beijing to renounce the use of force against Taiwan and to dismantle hundreds of missiles pointed at the island.

Beijing opposes any such referendum in Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway province. It has long threatened to use force, if the Taiwan government attempted to declare itself independent.

Washington has warned Beijing against any use of force, and is bound by treaty to assist Taiwan if it is attacked. But since 1972, the U.S. position has consistently been that there is only one China.

Earlier this week, during a visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, President Bush warned the Taiwan president against holding a referendum. Mr. Bush said Washington opposed any unilateral decision by Beijing or Taiwan that would change the status quo.

In his defiant speech to flag-waving party delegates, President Chen declared that it is China's military force that may change the status quo, not Taiwan's democracy.

Mr. Chen also left little doubt as to his personal feelings about independence.

He says Taiwan is democratic, and China is communist, and asks why they should not be separate states.

The island has been governed separately since the Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan in 1949, at the end of the Chinese civil war. But no Taiwan government has ever declared it to be a separate country.

Mr. Chen is currently in the running for a second term as president, and the party congress marks the formal beginning of his campaign.