The situation Taiwan's premier said Friday he might try to repeal a historic, one-day-old law that allows islandwide referendums - a measure pushed by the government but watered down by the opposition to make it difficult to hold votes on sovereignty issues.
The ruling party wanted a stronger bill that would have made it easier for the government to call an independence vote - a major irritation for rival China which considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory and warns that an independence declaration could spark war. Taiwan's opposition coalition, which has a slight majority in parliament and favors the island's eventual unification with China, passed a scaled-back version of the legislation Thursday in a major defeat for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. The opposition's law makes it difficult to hold referendums on sensitive issues such as rejecting eventual unification, and changing the flag or the island's name. It also blocks the government from initiating a referendum. Only the public and the legislature can call the votes during times of peace, and lawmakers have the power to reject proposed referendum issues. Some newspapers on Friday interpreted the new law as making votes on the touchy sovereignty issues extremely difficult or virtually impossible. The government was only able to win support for a "defensive referendum", which gives the president the power to call an independence vote under a threat of attack from China.
Reaction was not even both in Taiwan and the PRC. The Mainland sources condemn even the “watered down” version of the bill, sometimes sinking into straight propaganda in best totalitarian traditions. The Taiwanese sources divide just like the government: some hail the bill as a move towards democracy and a victory for Taiwan, some think it’s rather a half-lose. The politicians Premier Yu Shyi-kun complained Friday that the bill was full of contradictions and that it gave too much power to the legislature. ''I totally agree with the criticism that the lawmaking process was chaotic and many clauses may have contradicted each other. It may even contradict the constitution", Yu told reporters. "We will study the bill in detail before we decide whether to repeal it". The premier is appointed by the president. President Chen Shui-bian campaigned for a change in Taiwanese law to allow referendums, arguing that it would expand the island's democracy. He has told China that he won't rule out eventual unification as long as Beijing doesn't try to use force to change the current status quo of de facto Taiwanese independence.
China remained silent Friday, though the Communist government warned earlier this week it might "strongly react" to the referendum law. Chen Ming-tong, a Taiwanese official responsible for China policy, said, "The referendum touched little on cross-strait relations. The government has safeguarded our sovereignty and is trying to maintain stable relations".
Since the Communists took over the mainland in 1949, they've never governed Taiwan - just 160-kilometers (100 miles) across the Taiwan Strait. But the Communists have warned that Taiwan must eventually unify with the mainland. Rejecting unification could lead to war, China has repeatedly warned.
If the premier calls for a revote on the bill, the legislature will have to reconsider it within 15 days. At least 112 lawmakers in the 223-member legislature will have to pass the premier's repeal. A difficult task as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its political ally, Taiwan Solidarity Union, hold 100 seats.
Mainland China Some articles of the bill still leave room for the pro-independence forces in Taiwan to conduct separatist activities and will be the hidden trouble hindering the reunification of the Chinese nation. Xinhua - Beijing (official English-language news agency)
For (Taiwanese President) Chen Shui-bian's team, this is a great defeat. Huanqiu Shibao - Beijing
This extremely irresponsible move, which goes against the fundamental interests of Taiwanese people, will be finally cast aside by the public. (Wang Kebin, secretary-general, China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification) China Daily - Beijing
Today, Chen Shui-bian and his like are openly distorting history and recklessly proceeding with their 'Taiwan independence' activities. History will certainly censure his conduct of playing with fire in disregarding historical facts... Chinese people, including the people of Taiwan, will absolutely not tolerate this. (Yu Pei, president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of History) Guangming Ribao - Beijing
China equates changing the national flag, name and territory through national referendums with 'Taiwan independence'... Because China realises that the passage of a referendum law is inevitable, it had to attempt to delineate its so-called 'line'. This attempt was of course laughable, because self-determination is a universally accepted human right, and China has no right to interfere with the rights of Taiwanese people. Taipei Times - Taiwan (in English)
We don't want a 'birdcage referendum'! Liberty Times - Taiwan
The war of words between the blue (conservative) and green (reformist) camps is not over, so there's no harm in welcoming this moment of victory for Taiwan democracy! China Times - Taiwan
As for the green camp perhaps being angry that the 'Taiwan independence referendum' did not succeed, the blue camp also could not avoid some people being angry because the 'anti-Taiwan independence referendum' didn't succeed either. United Daily News - Taiwan
[information by Associated Press, Reuters and BBC Monitoring]