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Taiwan Envoys to Explain Referendum Plans - 2004-01-04

Taiwan will send envoys to the United States, Japan and Europe this week to explain a controversial planned referendum that has enraged Beijing.

A Taiwan newspaper says the three delegations from Taipei will visit Japan, Europe and the United States to assuage fear over a referendum planned for March. The island's government wants the public to vote on whether to demand that mainland China dismantle missiles targeting Taiwan.

China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory, sees the referendum as a step toward Taiwanese independence by President Chen Shui-bian.

In November, Taiwan's Parliament passed a bill allowing it to hold island-wide referendums on policy decisions. Taiwan President Chen and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party enraged China by pushing for the bill's passage. China says Mr. Chen is drumming up anti-Beijing sentiment to win votes in presidential elections in March.

President Bush has warned that Washington strongly opposes any unilateral changes in the present situation between the mainland and Taiwan.

During an annual speech on January 1, President Chen insisted the referendum is not aimed at changing cross-strait policy, but is part of the island's ongoing democratization.

President Chen said he hopes that China will jointly pursue peace with Taiwan.

Aside from the United States, Japan and the European Union have also voiced concern over the referendum plan.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but has remained the island's main arms supplier.