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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
HK unrest fans Taiwan fears
By Tim Culpan
In Taipei

Protests in Hong Kong over Article 23 have prompted further denouncement by Taiwan's leadership of China's "one country, two systems" model, and emboldened plans for a referendum law.

Leaders in Taipei this past week have used opposition in Hong Kong to anti-subversion laws to illustrate the differences between Taiwan and the former British colony, and have pointed to the need for safeguards on Taiwanese freedoms.

Pro-democracy rally, Hong Kong, 13 July 2003
Hong Kong's protests have deepened Taiwan's own fears
Most recently, Taiwan Foreign Minister Eugene Chien said that judging by the Hong Kong experience, China can't be trusted with the "one country, two systems" model.

"How could the international community believe that Beijing would settle its territorial disputes with Taipei in a peaceful manner if it could randomly scrap its guarantee of maintaining Hong Kong's free-wheeling economy for 50 years," Mr Chien told a seminar on Sunday.

Mr Chien warned that the past six years since the handover to Chinese rule have seen Hong Kong's freedoms continually undermined.

"Once Article 23 is approved by the legislature, Hong Kong's freedoms will be further restricted, and the free sentiment which has prevailed Hong Kong's market economy, will vanish," Mr Chien said.

The vice-chairman of Taiwan's cross-strait policy body has expressed support for the plight of the Hong Kong people.

"We really take a sympathetic view toward this demonstration of the Hong Kongese people, especially as we are a democratic state and also a liberal and open society," Chen Ming-tong, Vice-Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council told the Taipei Correspondents' Club.

The Taiwan Government is also trying to use the Hong Kong experience as leverage in its fight for the passing of a referendum law.

With presidential elections just eight months away, President Chen Shui-bian is trying to draw attention away from the ailing economy and focus back on cross-strait relations.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian
President Chen wants a national referendum law

To that end, he's begun an earnest campaign to pass a new referendum law that will allow a national vote on key policy issues.

Mr Chen's Democratic Progressive Party failed last Thursday to pass a draft of the law during a violent session of the island's legislature.

The move towards holding a referendum, which picked up steam last month, has been viewed with suspicion and caution not only by Beijing, but by Taiwan allies such as the US and Japan.

'Independence push'

The referendum law is seen by analysts as a veiled move toward independence, a view denied by the government.

"The government's position under Chen Shui-bian is very cautious of the push in the direction of [determining] national status," said Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Gau.

Instead, the DPP proposes holding referenda on three major policy issues, namely the completion of the island's fourth nuclear power plant, entry into the World Health Organization, and a reduction in the number of legislators.

To add weight to their argument, pro-referendum campaigners are pointing to Hong Kong as a reason why Taiwan needs people-power written into law.

According to the government, 55-60% of Taiwanese are in favour of passing a referendum law.

Under the DPP's proposal draft of the law, the president would also be able to call a referendum on Taiwan's status, "when the country is threatened by outside forces".

While maintaining that the referendum proposal is purely a public policy tool, the government concedes it has Beijing in mind.

"Is it something to do with China? Yes, certainly it is," said Joseph Wu, deputy secretary-general of the presidential office.

"The reason why we want the referendum... is for public policy issues. But when the referendum law is there, then we might be able to do something else," he said.

"Is it the DPP's intention to use it to vote on national status? I say no," he added.

Defiant in the face of last week's legislative defeat, the president has pledged to push ahead with a referendum on or before the next election, even if a law is not passed at the legislature's next session.

Even without the referendum law, said Mr Wu, the president can simply issue an executive decree to hold a referendum.

Hong Kong protests spread
10 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: China's concern at HK protests
09 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Q&A: HK's anti-subversion law
01 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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