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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 14) - Taiwan is preparing to hold a referendum on China’s missiles not as a step toward independence "but for our own domestic purpose," Taiwan Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said in an interview during a visit to this central Pacific nation on Monday.

China’s missiles targeted at Taiwan are a "threat to the security of Taiwan and the stability of the area," he said. "China has 500 missiles across the Strait, and is adding 75 each year. This is a tremendous concern in Taiwan. People are quite worried by it." (See related story on page 15)

Despite pressure from Beijing and concern from Washington, Chien said Taiwan is moving forward with a referendum that is expected to coincide with the national election on March 20.

He said U.S. officials have made it clear that they don’t oppose the referendum. "The U.S. concern is that there be no unilateral change in the status quo," Chien said. "We are not doing anything to change the status quo. This is not a referendum on independence."

Chien headed a 30-member delegation of government officials and media representatives that spent two days each in Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. Kiribati is the newest country to establish ties with Taiwan.

Kiribati’s move engendered more than the usual anger from China because it maintained an important satellite tracking station in that equatorial island nation.

After efforts to get Kiribati to reject relations with Taiwan failed, China late last month dismantled the tracking station.

In the Pacific, Taiwan maintains ties with five nations: the Solomon Islands, Palau, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.

"Taiwan is a sovereign state and has the right to choose its own friends," Chien said of Chinese criticism of its effort to extend diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province of China.

He dismissed China’s criticism that Taiwan was buying diplomatic recognition. "Taiwan is trying to help share our experience and successful development in Taiwan with less developed countries," Chien said. "We respond to their needs. We don’t go and tell a country what to do. Our aim is to substantially raise the quality of life of the people. It’s China that offers checkbook diplomacy based on their own work."

January 14, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com


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