Taiwan leader steps up campaign:
By Keith Bradsher (The New York Times)
Friday, October 31, 2003
TAIPEI: Trailing in polls for the presidential elections in March, President Chen Shui-bian has stepped up his appeals to Taiwanese separatism but has drawn little reaction so far from Beijing.
By calling for a national referendum on three touchy issues, to be followed by a redrafting of the constitution starting in 2006, Chen appears to have narrowed somewhat the gap by which he trails a rival ticket that unites the fractious political opposition.
But his own party's polls still show him behind by a bit, while polls by newspapers, most of which lean politically toward the opposition, have found him behind by as much as 15 points.
Beijing has regarded Taiwan as a renegade province since 1949, when the Communists prevailed on the mainland in China's civil war.
In a written response in English on Thursday to questions submitted last week, Chen strongly emphasized Taiwan's independence and sovereignty, but did so without suggesting a substantive change in Taiwan's policy toward the mainland.
"As an independent sovereign country, Taiwan does not belong to the People's Republic of China, nor is it a part of any other country," Chen said. He avoided saying directly that Taiwan was independent of the mainland, a phrasing that would upset Beijing officials. While Chinese newspapers constantly criticize Taiwan, Chinese leaders have kept largely silent during the early stages of the election campaign in Taiwan. Previous attempts to intimidate the island's residents, most notably by firing ballistic missiles into Taiwan's shipping lanes in 1996, have backfired by building support for Democratic Progressive Party politicians like Chen while hurting the opposition Nationalist Party, which favors an eventual political reunification with the mainland.
Chen was to be in New York on Friday evening to accept a human rights award. He was stopping over on his way to Panama.
He has sometimes made headlines with subtle changes in his oratory that could be interpreted as a tilt toward a declaration of independence from the mainland. But senior Taiwanese officials said in interviews that no such comments were likely in New York.
In his written remarks on Thursday, Chen acknowledged without criticism the growing cooperation on diplomatic issues, although not economic issues, between Washington and Beijing.
"The U.S. needs China's accommodation on the issues of antiterrorism and North Korea's nuclear weapons," he wrote. "As long as the U.S. continues to support Taiwan and strengthen substantive relations with Taiwan during its exchanges with China, our government does not oppose improved relations between the U.S. and China."
Chen wants to hold a national referendum close to the March elections on nuclear power policy, the size of the legislature and Taiwan's efforts to join the World Health Organization.
While none of these bears directly on Taiwanese separatism, holding a referendum could set a precedent on whether to amend the constitution to include separatist provisions.
Chen has been unable to persuade the legislature to pass a bill authorizing the holding of national referendums, and the Central Election Commission has said that it will not administer a referendum unless a legal basis for doing so can be established.
Hsiao Bi-khim, an influential Democratic Progressive Party member of the legislature, said that the president was determined to use discretionary government money if necessary to hold a referendum.
S. vote of welcome
The U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously passed a resolution welcoming Chen.
The resolution, which passed on Thursday by a vote of 416 to 0, lauded "an iron-clad relationship" of 50 years' duration that "has been of enormous economic, cultural, and strategic benefit to both nations."
International League of Human Rights