Taiwan says it will proceed with disputed March ballot

Taipei wants China to pull missiles, renounce force


HONG KONG - Taiwanese officials said today that they plan to proceed with a referendum next March despite White House criticism, and called for the United States to respect and support the island's democracy.

President Chen Shui-bian announced Friday that he would hold a referendum March 20 calling for China to withdraw all missiles aimed at Taiwan and to renounce the use of force against the island. A senior Bush administration official in Washington said yesterday that the United States did not want the referendum held and suggested that it might reduce Taiwan's security by antagonizing China, instead of enhancing it.

But Joseph Wu, Chen's deputy chief of staff for foreign policy, said Taiwan was determined to proceed with the vote.

The referendum "shouldn't be considered as anything provocative," he said in a telephone interview. "The missile threat has been there and is increasing."

Taiwan estimates that China has 496 ballistic missiles within range, a number that grows by 50 to 75 a year, Wu said.

He insisted that Taiwan was not trying to alter the status quo with China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province. Taiwanese officials are in regular contact with U.S. officials, he said.

Chen is up for re-election in March, and the referendum has been interpreted as a way to increase turnout of his political base, which favors greater political separation from the mainland.

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