Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Managing US response to UN bid

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

To prevent potential cross-strait tensions in the next couple of months, the administration of US President George W. Bush has initiated measures to prevent President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) moves toward de jure independence from crossing the "red line" established by Washington.

The US has reiterated its warning to Chen that Washington sees his push to hold a referendum on applying to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" as a move that unilaterally changes the cross-strait "status quo" and therefore violates US policy and Chen's commitments of not changing Taiwan's national title and not holding a referendum on independence.

To respond to US concerns, Chen has argued that the UN referendum does not involve changing the national title, nor is it a referendum on the issue of independence.

Washington also questioned the necessity of holding such a controversial referendum if most polls have shown an overwhelming support for Taiwan to join the UN.

Chen argued that there is an essential difference between results of polls and referendums, as polls are conducted to gather information, while referendums establish policy.

The difference between the US and Chen's positions has resulted in a clear political deadlock.

More rhetoric and political gestures are likely to emerge in the next couple of months, with the Bush administration taking measures to force Chen to make concessions on the referendum.

A clear example of the Bush administration's pressure was its attempt to downgrade Chen's transit stop in the US to one outside the contiguous 48 states and without an overnight stay.

China must have played a key role in terms of urging Washington to restrict Chen's movement. In addition to engaging in diplomatic and legal warfare to strengthen Chinese propaganda that "Taiwan is a part of People's republic of China," China is also expected to ask senior US officials to condemn the UN referendum as reckless and express US objections to Taiwan's bid to join other international organizations such as the World Health Organization.

The best scenario for Beijing would be for Bush to publicly criticize Chen's referendum as stoking cross-strait tensions when Bush meets with Chinese President Hu Jintou (胡錦濤) at the APEC Economic Leadership Summit next month.

Beijing would also like to unite with its allies in the UN at next month's UN General Assembly meetings in order to come up with a new resolution stipulating that Taiwan is part of China.

It is also possible that the US would postpone or cancel planned arms sales to Taipei until Chen backs down on the UN referendum bid.

But of course, the US is not China's plaything. Beijing knows that if Washington's warnings fail, it must employ military intimidation to deter Chen's ambitions.

It is very likely Hu will attempt to use the 17th plenary session of the Chinese People's Congress in October to send a clear message to the world that Beijing would resort to "non-peaceful means" under the so-called "Anti-Secession" Law to prvent Taiwan from moving toward de jure independence.

China is concerned that Chen will attempt to take advantage of the Olympics in Beijing next year to accelerate moves toward independence.

To counteract pressure from the hawkish People's Liberation Army, Chinese leaders are likely to show their military intentions toward Taiwan regardless of the Olympics -- or at least pretend to do so.

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