Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

US believes referendum is against its interests

By Edward Chen 陳一新

According to US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Christensen, although everybody uses the name Taiwan, if the Democratic Progressive Party were to use the name in an official political or legal framework such as a referendum, it would constitute changing the name of the country.

The US is of the opinion that this would be an intentional step toward changing the "status quo." And that is why Christensen says that he sees no room for compromise between the US and Taiwan on a UN referendum.

Christensen recently talked about the US' bottom line. He said the US was strongly opposed to any referendum, as its "potential downsides ... for Taiwan and US interests are potentially large," and "the benefits for Taiwan's international status are non-existent."

He talked about the harm a UN referendum might do Taiwan. This could be seen as implying that provoking China might have serious consequences for Taiwan. If Taiwan was considered to have provoked China by means of a referendum, the US may feel its promise to intervene in the event of an attack from China as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) would be invalidated.

Christensen thinks the proposed referendum would not help Taiwan apply for UN membership, but would limit the nation's international space. It would not win Taiwan any sympathy internationally; on the contrary, it could contribute to Beijing's power to limit Taiwan's international space and cause countries sympathetic to Taiwan to distance themselves from it. There was a warning in his speech that showed between the lines.

But why would a referendum on UN membership hurt the interests of the US and Taiwan, and force the US to strongly oppose it? The first reason is, as Christensen said in his speech, that the US' Taiwan Strait policy from 1979 has been beneficial to both Americans and Taiwanese.

"[A]s a friend of Taiwan, as an indispensable supporter of its democracy and freedoms, the United States ranks second to none," he said, because this fits with US interests in East Asia. What he didn't say was, if Taiwan provoked China, for example, by holding a referendum on applying for UN membership, this would not be in the US' interest, and so it might make an exception to its policy.

As to the second reason, Christensen said there was "absolutely no foundation to the assertion that the US coordinates its Taiwan policy with Beijing."

China and the US are working together in trying to maintain the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait. Both want to prevent Taiwanese independence and encourage cross-strait talks, but that is not the same as the US coordinating its Taiwan policy with China. However, it cannot be denied that China influences Taiwan through the US, and Beijing is putting increasing pressure on Washington.

The underlying meaning in Christensen's words is that if Taiwan continues to push for holding the referendum, this would harm US interests, and the possibility of the US and China coordinating their Taiwan policy cannot be ruled out.

Christensen says "if the referendum goes forward unchanged, we anticipate that Taiwan's perceptive, intelligent citizens will see through the rhetoric and make a sound judgment that the referendum does not serve their interests because it will be fundamentally harmful to Taiwan's external relations."

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