Furious Taiwan slams French'meddling' on China vote

29th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

TAIPEI, Jan 29 (AFP) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian Thursday accused France of meddling and his government cancelled two official visits to Paris in protest at French criticism of the island's referendum plans.

TAIPEI, Jan 29 (AFP) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian Thursday accused France of meddling and his government cancelled two official visits to Paris in protest at French criticism of the island's referendum plans.

Chen accused French President Jacques Chirac of interfering in the island's internal affairs for making the criticism during Chinese leader Hu Jintao's visit to Paris this week.

"France has practised the referendum system since 1791 as part of its democracy ... Even President Chirac held a national plebiscite in 2000," Chen said.

"It's incomprehensible to me that the government leader of a country having over 200 years of history practising the referendum system has interfered in the internal affairs of another country," Chen said in a statement.

Chen reiterated that the introduction of the referendum system was part of Taiwan's democratic development.

Tensions between France and Taiwan blew up when Chirac said Monday the planned March 20 referendum on the island's ties with China was "a grave mistake".

China, which considers Taiwan part of its territory even though the island has been ruled separately since 1949, has intepreted the referendum as part of a drive towards independence, a claim Taiwan denies.

Reacting to Chen's statement, French foreign ministry spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said: "We are not trying to express any particular criticism of the democratic process in Taiwan, nor even of the principle of a referendum.

"Our sole concern - the concern of the whole of the international community - is peace and stability in the region. That is wha we have renewed our appeal for constructive dialogue ... to find a peaceful solution of the Taiwan question."

Taiwan on Thursday also said it had cancelled visits to France by two cabinet ministers to protest Chirac's remarks, which Taiwanese vice president Annette Lu has called a cynical attempt to court Chinese business.

Cultural Affairs Minister Tchen Yu-chiou and Science Minister Wei Che-ho called off plans to visit Paris in early February.

"We will suspend the exchange programs until there is a proper reaction from France," Premier Yu Shyi-kun told reporters.

Wei had been scheduled to host the presentation of the Taiwan-France technology prize on February 4.

Tchen had planned to present a cultural prize on February 2, give a speech at the Institut de France on February 3 and attend the opening ceremony of a Taiwan handicraft exhibition on February 5.

Consensus among ministries had been reached to put off certain Taiwan-France cultural exchange programs "for the dignity and interest of our country," said foreign ministry spokesman Richard Shih.

The suspension of cross-cultural ties comes as another scandal looks set to enflame France-Taiwan relations.

A leaked report Wednesday showed France could have overcharged Taiwan millions of dollars for warships sold to the island in 1991. France could now be fined up to
USD 600 million (EUR 476 million).

Chen has toned down the wording of the questions in the referendum, to be held alongside the March 20 presidential elections.

Instead of urging China to remove the 496 ballistic missiles targeting the island, voters would be asked about beefing up the island's defensive capabilities against China's military threat.

They would also be asked to vote whether or not to negotiate for peaceful coexistence with China.

© AFP

                                Subject: France news

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