Taipei, May 21 (CNA) The government welcomes the opportunity to communicate with Hsu Hsin-liang, a former chairman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), presidential spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi said Monday as Hsu began a hunger strike.
Hsu, one of five candidates in the DPP's upcoming election for a new chairman, went on a hunger strike outside the Legislative Yuan at 3 p.m. to demand that the government revoke its decision to raise fuel and electricity rates.
He had organized a sit-in a day earlier to protest Ma administration's policies, including the power rate hikes and the government's proposal to lift the ban on imports of beef containing residues of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.
Hsu has also said he wants former President Chen Shui-bian, who is serving a combined jail term of 17.5 years in prison for corruption during his two terms in office from 2000 to 2008, to be pardoned.
Asked whether his health could withstand a hunger strike, the veteran politician, who turns 71 on Sunday, said "I will achieve my goal at any cost."
Hsu said he did not rule out extending the strike if the president did not respond to his appeals.
Fan Chiang answered that the administration was open to discussing with him the issues he has raised.
Electricity rates, he said, will be raised in three phases beginning June 10 in line with public opinion out of concern for the potential impact of a one-time increase on consumer prices and economic growth.
Under the new rate structure, set after the government revised its policy in response to public opinion, electricity prices for two-thirds of Taiwan's households and one-third of its small shops will be unaffected, the spokesman said.
On the controversy over beef imports from the U.S., Fang Chiang said the government has set the principles of "allowing a safe level of ractopamine in meat, separating the permits for importing beef and pork, clearly labeling meat imports and excluding imports of internal organs."
Resolving the dispute with United States, which has lobbied hard for acceptance of beef with ractopamine residues, will enable talks under a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement to resume after being suspended for five years, Fan Chiang said.
The talks represent an opportunity to stimulate the country's economic development, and the government will not give the chance up, he said.
Meanwhile, while Hsu was holding a hunger strike, the four other DPP leader candidates -- former Premier Su Tseng-chang, former DPP Legislator Chai Trong-rong, former Tainan County Magistrate Su Huan-chih and former Vice Premier Wu Rong-i -- were stepping up their campaigns.
The DPP will elect a new leader on May 27, with over 160,000 DPP party members eligible to cast ballots.
(By Kelvin Huang, Lin Shen-hsu and Kendra Lin)