Washington officials have used several channels to tell Taipei that they are opposed to Taiwan holding a referendum on joining the UN, as the US believes that such a referendum would be dangerously close to voting on independence. The US, however, is in no position to oppose such the plan.
First, Washington has reacted too slowly to the subject. It wants Taiwan to give up the referendum, but it's clearly already too late. More than a month ago President Chen Shui-bian (
Moreover, he has been throwing around ideas about changing the nation's title, drafting a new constitution, starting a "second republic" and joining the UN for about a year. Political parties know that if Chen wants to do hold referendums alongside the presidential election, a referendum on joining the UN will be one of them.
Second, because the US' opposition to the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) defensive referendum in 2004 petered out, Washington has already lost its legitimacy to oppose the UN referendum. In the lead up to the 2004 election, the US began with stern admonitions not to hold the referendum. But that original bang ended up as just a whimper. This time, Washington complains that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is not only unwilling to take the bullet for the US, but has proposed its own UN referendum. But the KMT has strongly rejected this, stopping just short of saying "the KMT doesn't want to be sold out by the US this time."
Third, both Washington and Beijing should analyze the pros and cons of a referendum on the UN. What both countries really oppose are referendums about Taiwan's future that could be disguised unification or independence referendums, or an official independence referendum.
DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (
Washington and Beijing should draw the line at an independence referendum, but not one involving joining the UN. After all, proposing to join the UN under the name Taiwan is, at most, just a small step above trying to join the WHO under the same name.
With the KMT deciding to follow the DPP with its own referendum, the US has lost an important lever to check the DPP. Beijing's three main points of support for opposing Taiwanese independence are Taiwanese public opinion, the pan-blue camp and the US. If the US continues to grumble at the pan-blue camp, and Beijing believes it has lost two of those supports, this will only deepen misunderstandings between Taiwan, the US and China. It will also sap the strength of the anti-independence cause.
Both the US and China believe that Taiwanese independence does not suit their interests, but if they want to maintain the anti-independence forces' strength, Washington and Beijing need to adjust their positions.
The US has always classified Taiwanese referendums into three categories: Independence versus unification; public policy and politically sensitive topics that might change the "status quo."