Sunday, February 24, 2008

Presidential candidates praise each other before trading barbs in debate

Taipei, Feb. 24 (CNA) Taiwan's presidential hopefuls Ma Ying-jeou and Frank Hsieh took time to praise each other before trading barbs in the first of two crucial televised debates Sunday.

Ma, candidate of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), and Hsieh, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP's) candidate, were asked to name three qualities of their rival in the debate, which was something they almost never did since the campaign began last year.

The debate included 20 pre-recorded questions in video format from citizens.

"I can name more than three qualities of Mr. Hsieh, " Ma said, listing humor, Japanese proficiency, communication skills, and cooking as Hsieh's strengths. Ma also said he admired Hsieh's achievement as a high school gymnast.

Hsieh countered with humor: "The only weakness for Mr. Ma is that he has too many strengths." He gave Ma high marks on his language skills, experience as a public official, appearance and mild mannered personality.

The atmosphere, however, changed dramatically after the first segment of the event. Less than 10 minutes later in the question and answer period, both candidates attacked each other over the issue of integrity.

It was not easy to differentiate between Ma and Hsieh's platforms regarding agriculture, same-sex marriages, culture, environmental protection and major infrastructure construction projects, which were among various topics brought up in the 20 questions from citizens.

They had different views on how to stimulate the domestic economy, however, as Ma advocated closer agricultural and trade exchanges, further opening in regulation and market, and direct flights to China, while Hsieh held a more cautious and conservative view.

The debate was organized by the Central News Agency, the Public Television Service Foundation and four local newspapers. The second debate is scheduled to be held on March. 9.

Presidential debate showcases election platforms

Taipei, Feb. 24 (CNA) Presidential hopefuls Frank Hsieh and Ma Ying-jeou went head- to-head in the first of two crucial televised debates Sunday with the election less than four weeks away.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP's) Hsieh and Ma, who represents the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), looked confident and prepared in the first segment of the debate, which included 20 pre-recorded questions in video format from citizens.

The debate was seen as an important platform for both to appeal to the electorate for support in the March 22 election, as well as a chance for Hsieh to close the gap between them, as he has been trailing in most public opinion polls since the campaign began last year.

Hsieh and Ma were asked to answer questions from 20 citizens, including Lo Chao-hsun, who is known for heckling President Chen Shui-bian in public, and Su Chien-ho, a convicted murderer whose controversial death sentence is still under review by the Taiwan High Court.

Both candidates only exchanged friendly fire in the first 10 questions, although Hsieh occasionally took jabs at Ma.

The debate was organized by the CNA, the Public Television Service Foundation and four local newspapers.

In the first two sections of the program, according to the rules, Hsieh and Ma had to respond to the 20 videotaped questions selected by the organizers from among 456 questions contributed to PeoPo, a Web site specially set up for the general public to express their concerns on the Internet over the candidates, their policies, and the future of Taiwan.

The 20 people chosen were then given the opportunity to question both candidates directly at the debate, based on the candidates' answers to the videotaped questions, which included such issues as the identity of Taiwan and its people, Taiwan's participation in the Kyoto Protocol, same-sex marriage, the promotion of aboriginal culture, social welfare and economic development.

In the third section of the program, each presidential hopeful challenged his opponent with three questions, with responses requiring to be made within a time limit of one minute.

At the end of the program, Hsieh and Ma were each given three minutes to make concluding remarks.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kenyan runner to defend Tainan International Marathon title

Taipei, Feb. 22 (CNA) Kenyan long-distance runner Bernard Mutai will make it to the southern city of Tainan to defend his title in the 2008 Tainan International Marathon, despite widespread violence that has torn his homeland apart, the Sports Affairs Council (SAC) said Friday.

Three other Kenyan athletes will not be able to leave the East African country, which has been mired in violence in which 1,000 people have died following a controversial presidential election, the SAC said in a statement.

Mutai finished first in the men’s group in two hours, 21 minutes and 11 seconds while Russian runner Oksana Lokhlova won the women’s group in 3:03:09 last year.

More than 6,000 runners will participate in four distances -- the 42.195-kilometer full marathon, the 21-km, half-marathon, the 10 km and the 3 km -- in the annual race. Taiwanese runner Wu Wen-chian, who has qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will participate in the 10km event as a pre-Olympics warm-up.

Human rights group plans alternative Olympic torch relay into China

Taipei, Feb. 22 (CNA) An international human rights torch relay that seeks to end all human rights abuses in China will make its way into the Olympic host country through text messages, flying balloons and e-mails, a human rights group announced Friday.

Launched by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG) , the international relay has traveled to 26 countries and 80 cities around the world since the torch was lit in Athens, Greece on Aug.9, 2007.

The group has now decided to take it one step further by entering China.

"At this crucial time when the eyes of the world are on Beijing and in response to the strong demand by the Chinese people to further expose the tyranny of the CCP and to improve the increasingly poor human rights situation in China, the 'Human Rights Torch' will enter mainland China at the end of March 2008, " it said in a statement.

It called for all Chinese who are against dictatorship and for the pursuit of freedom to participate in an alternative and creative form of torch relay from the end of March to the end of the Olympic Games in August.

Considering the safety of the participants, the China leg of the torch relay will not be a traditional run. Instead, participants can distribute a relay logo through e-mails, text messages, e-cards, and blog entries.

They can also hand out T-shirts or baseball caps printed with the slogan "The same world, the same human rights" on them, or play the relay's theme song using multimedia devices in public spaces.

Participants can also write messages on bills, important buildings and facilities, and even a flying balloon.

CIPFG, the main organizer of a two-day international forum on the human rights situation in China and the 2008 Olympics, also released a joint statement Friday, urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to request the host Chinese Olympic National Committee to adhere to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism and ensure respect for equal rights for all to participate in the 2008 Olympic Games.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beijing Olympics echoes Berlin Olympics: human rights advocates

Taipei, Feb. 21 (CNA) Major powers have ignored China's human rights violations in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which is reminiscent of what happened before the 1936 Berlin Olympics, human rights advocates said Thursday in an international forum.

"Nazi authorities held high hopes for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which they saw as an occasion to showcase the so-called German economic miracle and assert Germany's world power status, " said Seweryn Ozdowski, former commissioner of the Commonwealth of Human Rights in Australia.

"The Olympics in China seem to be set in exactly the same mould, " Peter Westmore, chairman of the Australia-based National Civil Council, said on the first day of an international forum on human rights in China and the 2008 Olympics.

The two-day forum was organized by the Coalition to Investigate the persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG) and the Taiwan Culture Foundation.

Another similarity between the two Olympics 64 years apart could be found in major powers' neglect of the host countries repeated human rights violations, the forum participants claimed.

"In 1936, Nazi dictatorship was already well-established, with political executions without trial, censorship of the media, abolition of the freedom of association and the racist Nurnberg Laws," said Ozdowski.

"The Communist Party of China (CPC) has not improved its human rights situation over the past 10 years, " said Michel Wu, former director of the Mandarin service of Radio France International.

"Despite this, the Western democracies have decided to overlook these developments in the name of unity of Olympic spirit, " he said.

While a number of celebrities, including American film director Steven Spielberg, and various non-government organizations have called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, most Western countries have decided to participate.

"Many Western governments, including my own, are afraid to offend Beijing, fearing that to raise the issue of human rights in a serious way would jeopardize trade and other links. Businesses, particularly those with subsidiaries in China and including media organizations, also fear offending China, " Westmore said.

"We should take comfort from the fact that just as courageous and far-sighted people opposed the German Olympics in 1936, today we are called on to object to the conducting of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, " he added.

"China should not hold the Olympics. The CPC had no intention from the first to keep the promise that it would improve the human rights situation in China, " said Kan Ando, Japan vice president of CIPFG Asia.

The advocates called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics as China has failed to fulfill its promise made in 2001 when it won the Olympics hosting bid to improve the human rights situation in China, so that the communist regime will learn a lesson and human rights in China can be protected.

"Let us remember that a boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics could have prevented World War II and holocaust, " Ozdowski said.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

AIT might respond to inquiry on presidential candidates' status

Taipei, Feb. 19 (CNA) In response to a question emailed by a CNA reporter, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) spokesman Thomas Hedges wrote Tuesday that AIT "will consider" responding to issues of U.S. citizenship and permanent residency concerning both of Taiwan's presidential candidates should it receive such inquiries from the Taiwanese authorities.

"AIT would certainly consider responding to an inquiry from the Central Election Commission regarding U.S. citizenship or permanent legal resident status of candidates in the presidential election. To date, AIT has received no such inquiry, " Hodges wrote in an email.

The Central Election Committee (CEC) has requested authorization from both ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Frank Hsieh and Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Ma Ying-jeou in order to verify whether both hold dual citizenship, which would violate Taiwanese election laws, or permanent residency of a foreign country.

Hsieh's camp has recently challenged Ma over his possession of a U.S. green card. Ma claims that the green card, which he obtained while studying in the U.S. in the late 1970s, lost its validity in the mid-1980s after he returned to Taiwan.

The CEC, which listed eight questions in a questionnaire for both campaigns, had not received replies from either Hsieh or Ma, CEC spokesman Deng Tien-yu said that day.

Both were asked to provide their passport numbers, dates of birth, Chinese and English names and say whether they hold U.S. social security numbers, foreign residency or passports.

In addition to the AIT, the CEC will also submit the same inquiries to the representative offices of Japan and the United Kingdom on the matter.

Hsieh studied in Japan and Ma was born in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

In his email response, Hodges wrote that as AIT Taipei Office Director Stephen Young and senior U.S. State Department officials have said on several occasions, the U.S. government has no favorite in the election.

"We will respond to inquiries of this nature in whatever manner best maintains our neutrality in this election, " he wrote.

The AIT declined to comment on the dispute when Hsieh's camp first made the allegation against Ma in late January.

Taiwanese baseball eyes Olympic ticket

Taipei, Feb. 19 (CNA) Taiwan's national baseball team has one last chance to earn a berth in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games baseball tournament, and despite the likely absence of its foreign-based players, the team says it's ready.

It better be.

The squad drew the wrath of home fans late last year when it finished an embarrassing eighth in the Baseball World Cup in November and a disappointing third in the Asian Baseball Championship in December, and many worried that baseball in Taiwan was in a state of permanent decline.

But the team can redeem itself by finishing in the top three of the final eight-team Olympic qualifying tournament that will be held in Taichung and Douliou in central Taiwan from March 7-14.

"In fact, this is a five-for-three competition, " manager Hung Yi-chung said in Taichung, where the team is training for the tournament.

Hung was referring to the quality of the field, with five countries -- Taiwan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and Mexico -- expected to compete for the final three Olympic slots.

The remaining three teams, international baseball minnows Germany, Spain and South Africa, are seen as having little chance of staging a breakthrough.

South Korea is expected to be the strongest team, Hung said, so Taiwan's game plan will be to win two of its three round robin games against Australia, Mexico and Canada to secure a top three finish.

Hung's task will be complicated by the absence of Taiwan's foreign-based stars. Pitchers Tsao Chin-hui and Keng Po-hsuan, who play in the United States, and Lin En-yu and Hsu Ming-chieh, who pitch in Japan, have all dropped out and opted to concentrate on advancing their professional careers.

That means Hung will be left with a roster composed mostly of players who compete in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League or local amateurs, but the manager said he's prepared to play with an all-local 24-man roster if need be.

Regardless of how the roster shapes up, Hung said, Taiwan will still try to win every game, and could be helped by having more information on its opponents.

Local baseball commentators blasted the national team for poor scouting after its disappointing finishes in the Baseball World Cup and Asian Championship, but it has made more of an effort before this tourney to learn its adversaries' tendancies.

Players have been watching a lot of film from games played by Canada, Mexico and Australia, Hung said, and he believed the three teams will not be as strong as their World Cup squads because they'll be missing some of their U.S. Major League players.

Major League Baseball has prohibited players on teams' 40-man rosters from participating in the Olympic qualifiers.

Hung hopes to have his team sharp by the time the tournament opens next month. To get the players back into game condition, the national squad will play a six-game warm-up series against the six CPBL teams, beginning Feb. 25.

Friday, February 15, 2008

China to face more international pressure before Olympics: MAC

Taipei, Feb. 15 (CNA) China is expected to face intensified pressure from the international community before the Beijing Olympics over its support for Sudan's government, but Taiwan so far has no plans to boycott the Games, a Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) official said Friday.

"The Olympic Games have been given multiple meanings. As the host country, China has been under tremendous pressure, but it should not shun its obligations as a member of the international community either, " MAC Vice Chairman Liu Te-shun said in response to a question on American film director Steven Spielberg's withdrawal as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics.

Spielberg made the announcement Tuesday after failing to prod China to do more to end the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan that has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced more than 2 million people.

Before Spielberg withdrew, a number of celebrities, international media watchdogs and human rights organizations had been calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics because of China's support for the Sudanese government, which has been blamed for most of the atrocities in the conflict and used Chinese-made weapons against its enemies.

Asked if Taiwan would consider boycotting the event, Liu said that "there have been no substantial discussions on that matter from our side."

China has been engaging in an intense competition for energy and mineral products as part of its "peaceful rise, " which was why it had to develop close diplomatic relations with a number of authoritarian regimes, Liu said.

The United Nations and other international organizations are trying to pressure China and ask it to play a more positive and responsible role in handling the Darfur situation and domestic human rights protection, Liu said.

"If China wants to assure the international community about its peaceful rise, it should not merely sit by and watch -- or shield -- the injustice in front of its face. For the international community, that would be ironic and reveal China's anti-democratic attitude and lack of respect for human rights, " he said.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Taiwan tries to win investment, votes from `taishang'

Taipei, Feb. 14 (CNA) With over 70 percent of its outbound investment going to China and a stagnant economy, the government is doing more to encourage Taiwanese businessmen to "re-invest" in their homeland and vote in the March 22 presidential election.

President Chen Shui-bian, Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen and Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) President Hung Chi-chang made the remarks at an annual Lunar New Year gathering Thursday for more than 500 Taiwanese businessmen operating in China, known locally as "taishang. "

Facing the challenges of China's new labor laws and stricter taxation, Taiwanese businessmen should start considering the deployment of "China plus one, " which means increasing investment to a new country. That country could be Vietnam or Taiwan, Hung said after describing the businessmen as Taiwan's "invisible national power and national pride."

He also urged China-based Taiwanese to vote in the presidential election and make Taiwan's democracy an example for China and the Chinese community. An estimated 1 million taishang and their dependents reside in China.

There will be more than 17 million eligible voters in the presidential election, so that the 1 million votes of taishang represent almost 6 percent of the electorate.

Taiwanese businessmen need to cope with the changing investment environment in China that is the result of a new labor law and new tax regulations, said Chen.

A China with cheap land, cheap labor, tax incentives and low standards of environmental protection -- the main reasons that has attracted Taiwanese businessmen to China since the late 1980's -- is in the past, he said.

This is why the government has created a project to attract investment back to Taiwan with incentives on land lease and taxation, he noted, adding that the government also encourages Taiwanese businesses to start the process of enterprise transformation and focus on high value-added products.

"Not all businesses are suitable for returning to Taiwan. We realize that. The MOEA will also do its best to help Taiwanese businesses invest in various other regions, including Central and South America, Central and Eastern Europe, India and Vietnam, " Steve Chen said.

To bring back the investment, the government has to first convince the presidents of the 102 Taiwanese businessmen associations in China, who are seen as highly influential among the taishang. A total of 82 incumbent or former presidents of the associations attended the annual meeting.

Premier confirms defense company establishment

Taipei, Feb. 14 (CNA) Premier Chang Chun-hsiung confirmed Thursday that a defense company has been established with investment from various government agencies and state-owned corporations, but stressed that it was a private company.

Chang confirmed a local newspaper report about the company named "Taiwan Goal" on the sidelines of a Lunar New Year meeting with China-based Taiwanese business people, but did not elaborate on the company's objectives.

The Chinese-language China Times reported Thursday that Taiwan Goal, charged with integrating local and international military equipment manufacturers and various military services, has been established and that Wu Nai-jen has been named as president.

Also on Thursday, National Defense Minister Lee Tien-yu said that an investment of 45 percent of the initial Taiwan Goal's capital came from the Ministry of National Defense (MND), adding that the MND will hold a press conference Friday to elaborate on the functions of the company.

Wu Nai-jen said in a statement issued Thursday that Taiwan Goal was established as a platform to integrate international military equipment suppliers and competent local companies to work on military system maintenance and components manufacture.

Wu said he took the role as a voluntary president without compensation, adding that he will resign after the next president is inaugurated May 20. He went on to say that Taiwan Goal will not be able to sign any contracts before May 20.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Taiwan basketball league looks ahead to second half

Taipei, Feb. 5 (CNA) After a first half of the season full of good and not-so-good surprises, Taiwan’s domestic basketball league SBL (Super Basketball League) is looking forward to a prosperous second half on the eve of a two-week lunar new year break.

The semi-pro league, which is in the middle of its fifth season, consists of seven teams and adopts a 30-game regular season format. The regular season will be suspended briefly before resuming Feb. 15 after a two-week break for the new year.

Before the 2007-08 season opened last December, the league was expected to be top heavy as perennial power Yulon Dinos, defending champion Taiwan Beer and Dacin Tigers were all loaded with talented players while the remaining team were either inexperienced or under-budgeted to compete with the big boys.

The prediction is partially true as Yulon, which won three titles in the SBL's first four years, is currently leading the league at 16 wins and 4 losses. Taiwan Beer is not far behind at 15-6.

What surprised everyone was that Dacin is barely clinging on to its fourth place ranking with a sub-.500 record of nine wins and 11 losses. Dmedia Numen, which hires the only foreign player in the league, became a dark horse with a third-place 13-7 record.

Pure Youth Construction Corp., a bottom dweller during the previous four seasons, was another surprise at 9-12. The young team is making a strong push to the top four with the momentum of a five-game winning streak under the guidance of young head coach Hsu Chin-che.

Yulon forward Chen Hsin-an, the first Taiwanese player to play in the U.S. NBA team training camp in 2002, regained his top form and is leading the league in scoring with a 20.6 points per game to go with 8.8 rebounds. Dmedia import Jonathan Sanders has been dominating at both ends of the court, averaging 19.2 points, 16.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.

Sanders was not alone. Ouyang Ching-hen, a 28-year-old Dmedia guard, is enjoying a breakout season as the league's third best scorer with an 18.7 scoring average.

However, the image of the league has been taking hits from numerous incidents on and off the court. Two on-court brawls have led to a number of player suspensions. Taiwan Beer head coach Yen Chia-hua and the team manager Lin Chieh-ho are in the middle of a 10-game suspension as well. Both were reprimanded as Yen kicked a referee and Lin punched another after a controversial game.

Three Demdia players were released from the team after being involved in a stabbing incident outside a Taipei nightclub last month.

The SBL, the brainchild of the Sports Affairs Council and the Chinese Taipei Basketball Association, in hope of reviving local basketball, was established in 2003, four years after the professional league Chinese Basketball Alliance (CBA) folded.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Taiwan expands roster ahead of Olympic baseball qualifiers

Taipei, Feb. 4 (CNA) Taiwan's national baseball team continued to toy with its roster Monday in its quest to find the lineup that will earn it a berth in the 2008 Olympic baseball tournament.

Manager Hung Yi-chung announced a 37-man training camp roster in prepartion for the final Olympic qualifying tournament, which will be held in Taichung and Yunlin in central Taiwan from March 7-14.

Taiwan will need to finish in the top three among eight teams in the tournament to earn the right to compete in Beijing.

"After a lengthy discussion with the coaching staff, we decided to expand the original 30-man roster to 37 as a number of young players have been playing well for the Select Team in Puerto Rico, " Hung said, referring to a team consisting of young and promising players currently training on the Caribbean island.

Expanding the roster will give Hung and his coaches a final chance to compare some of the younger players with battle-tested veterans before naming the squad's final 24-man roster for the qualifying tourney.

Taiwan finished an embarrassing eighth in the Baseball World Cup last November and finished a disappointing third in the Asian Baseball Championship last December, in which the top finisher, Japan, earned a spot in Beijing.

Although the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association failed to get permission from the New York Yankees to add Wang Chien-ming to the roster, the team will still have access to other hurlers who pitch professionally abroad.

They include Tsao Chin-hui, formerly of the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers who recently signed a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals, Keng Po-hsuan, who is in the Toronto Blue Jays' farm system, and Hsu Ming-chieh and Chiang Chien-ming who pitch professionally in Japan.

The team's training camp will start Feb. 11 in Taichung, Hung said.

Taiwan's main competition in the tourney figures to comes from Australia, Mexico, South Korea and Canada, though it is unclear how much their rosters will be affected by being unable to call up U.S.-based players.

England, Spain and South Africa are not expected to pose much of a threat.

China, the United States, Cuba, the Netherlands and Japan have already booked their spots in the eight-team Olympic tournament.

The complete 37-man roster for Taiwan's national team is listed below:

Pitchers (18) : Tsao Chin-hui, Keng Po-hsuan, Lin En-yu, Hsu Ming-chieh, Chiang Chien-ming, Chang Chi-chia, Huang Jun-chung, Pan Wei-lun, Yang Chien-fu, Ni Fu-te, Lee Cheng-chang, Lee Wei-hua, Lin Po-yu, Lee Chu-kuan, Cheng Kai-wen, Lin Ke-chien, Tang Chia-jun, Huang Chih-lung.

Catchers (4): Yeh Chun-chang, Chen Feng-min, Kao Chih-kang, Lin Kun-sheng.

Infielders (9): Kao Kuo-ching, Yang Sen, Chang Tai-shan, Peng Cheng-min, Wang Sheng-wei, Lin Chih-sheng, Chiang Chih-hsien, Lin Yi-chuan, Chang Chien-ming.

Outfielders (6): Chen Chin-feng, Hsieh Chia-hsien, Lo Kuo-hui, Lin Che-hsuan, Chung Chen-yu, Chan Chi-yao.

U.S., China more concerned with referendums than presidential race

Taipei, Feb. 4 (CNA) Results of the two referendum proposals regarding Taiwan's bid for membership in the United Nations -- not the results of Taiwan's presidential election -- are of greatest concern to China and the United States, academics said at a recent seminar.

"It seemed to me that China does not care who will win the presidential election in March. It is more concerned with the referendums, " Chiang Chi-chen, an assistant professor at Soochow University, said in a seminar held Friday on the prospects of cross-strait relations in 2008.

Two referendums on whether Taiwan should apply for U.N. membership under the name Taiwan, or return to the world body under the country's official title Republic of China, or any other feasible name, will be held alongside the presidential election March 22.

The landslide victory of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) in the January Legislative election guarantees that the new president will have limited room to maneuver, regardless of who wins the presidency -- KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou or ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Frank Hsieh, Chiang said.

"There is little doubt that China will focus on the referendum issue this year, " said Wang Kun-yi, a professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.

There are four possible scenarios concerning the results of the presidential election and the referendum, said Chang Wu-ueh, chairman of the Friends of Hong Kong and Macau Association.

Beijing's preferred outcome will be seeing Ma elected with the DPP's proposal, which asks for popular approval of applying for U.N. membership under the name Taiwan, failing to pass, Chang said. He added that a Hsieh victory and passage of the DPP proposal is the scenario Beijing most dislikes.

While it's inappropriate to portray the DPP's proposal as an "independence referendum", which President Chen Shui-bian vowed not to hold in his 2000 inauguration speech, the U.S. and China both took it as a "provocative first step towards de jure independence", said Lin Cheng-yi, a researcher at Academia Sinica.

"Which was why both China and the U.S. have seen the referendum issue as more important than the presidential election, " Lin noted.

China is expected to keep pressuring Taiwan on the referendum issue through third countries ahead of the March election. It is also expected to try to influence swing voters and supporters of the KMT-led pan-blue alliance to vote in the referendum, Chang said.

It will best serve Taiwan's interests if at least one referendum passes, either that of the DPP or the KMT, Lin said.

"What kind of message will we be sending the world if both referendums fail to pass?" he asked.