Opposition Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has promised to accelerate the promotion of direct cross-strait flights, remove related restrictions on cross-strait transportation links and launch a referendum on the issue if necessary, according to local Chinese-language media report yesterday.
The United Daily News said Ma promised in an interview to press ahead with efforts to amend the existing statute that bans direct links with the mainland, including flights and shipping.
Ma said he would resort to a referendum if his legislative efforts fail, or if the government of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) refuses to implement the amendments the Legislature adopts, according to the paper.
Responding to Ma's reported comments, the top official from the policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said that the Chinese authorities must agree to hold official negotiations with Taiwan regarding the issue.
Wu stressed that the opening of the cross-strait "three links," - trade, transport, and post - has been a set government policy and that bilateral negotiations are needed to realize that goal.
He added, however, that the policy could not be unilaterally implemented by Taiwan as China has failed to respond positively on the issue.
It would be "putting the cart before the horse" if the KMT should seek to resolve the issue by revising the statute instead of first urging the Chinese authorities to engage in equitable negotiations with the Taiwan government, Wu stressed.
The official further said that the government would welcome the referendum proposal to help settle the issue, since the ruling Democratic Progressive Party has long supported the idea of holding referendums to resolve disputes over major policies.
Ma reportedly said he expects the DPP to put every possible effort into blocking his legislative initiative, but insisted that he was committed to bringing about the changes anyway.
"If we pass this legislation, it would mean one less excuse for the government (to oppose links with China,)" the paper quoted Ma as saying.
Echoing Ma's call, the KMT legislative caucus yesterday announced the party's intention to push for a national referendum on direct cross-strait flights, saying that the issue could not be delayed any longer.
Meanwhile, Ma yesterday stressed that the referendum was just an option and "has not yet become a policy."
Opinion polls have found that the majority of the Taiwan public favors cross-strait exchange and thinks that fostering exchanges could help to ease the tension between the two sides, which would be beneficial to Taiwan, Ma added.
In response to Ma's suggestion, DPP legislative whip William Lai (賴清德) said that the party caucus welcomes the referendum proposal, but added that the referendum should be held before any law amendments to ensure that the revisions would be in concert with the public consensus.
The caucus of the DPP's ally, the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union, suggested that the KMT should hold a referendum to confirm the "state to state" relations between Taiwan and China and draft law amendments accordingly.
TSU Legislator Lo Chih-ming (羅志明) said that the realization of direct cross-strait flights requires official negations between the two sides. If the Chinese authorities continue to refuse to have any official contact with the Taiwan government after the referendum, the public vote would be meaningless, he suggested.
Opposition People First Party Legislator Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄) said that if Ma really wanted to establish direct cross-strait flights, the KMT should cooperate with the PFP to push forward the "cross-strait peace promotion" bill.
"If the issue could be solved inside the Legislature, why do we need to mobilize everyone and consume the nation's resources to resolve the dispute by means of a referendum?" Liu asked.