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Taiwanese President Hints at Referendum

Calls Tie to China Matter for People

From combined dispatches, August 29, 2000 Washington Times

Taipei, Taiwan - President Chen Shui-bian assured Taiwan's people yesterday that any change in the island's relationship with China will have to respect the wishes of its inhabitants.

"We don't have a predetermined stance, but we also cannot have a predetermined conclusion," Mr. Chen said when asked whether Taiwan should reunify with China or declare its independence.

"Any option is a possibility, but it must respect the free will and the final choice and decision of Taiwan's 23 million people," he said at a news conference.

Although he did not use the word referendum, the implication was that his government would take no major action without submitting the issue to the people.

Analysts in Washington said Mr. Chen was promising to stand by the vague guidelines for reunification drawn up by his predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, who called for political change both on the mainland and in Taiwan before the two could reunite.

A survey conducted by Mr. Chen's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) showed that 87 percent of Taiwan respondents favor the status quo.

Tensions between democratic Taiwan and its giant communist neighbor have been simmering since Mr. Chen came to power in March presidential elections, ending more than five decades of Nationalist rule.

Mr. Chen, who returned last week from his first overseas visit as president, said Taiwan is a democracy and needs to build a broadly based consensus on whether to reunify with China, the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion people.

"No country, government, political party or individual can presumptuously help Taiwan's 23 million people make a unilateral decision," he said.

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