The US is reportedly continuing to put strong pressure on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and even both parties' presidential candidates in the hope of stopping both the DPP's referendum on applying for UN membership as a new member under the name "Taiwan," and the KMT's referendum on returning to the UN under any practical name.
The two referendums have already harmed cross-strait relations and lead to a new low point in US-Taiwan relations. It is time for the DPP and KMT to reconsider. The two parties should negotiate and then let the legislature come up with a new referendum proposal to replace the proposals now before us.
The new proposal could ask: "Based on every person's human right to participate in international cooperation through their government, and the UN's principle of universality established on this right, do you agree that the UN should not exclude Taiwan?"
The main difference between this proposal and the two proposed referendums is the actor. In the DPP and KMT versions, the actor is Taiwan; in the new proposal, it's the UN. Through such wording, the Taiwanese could clearly tell the international community that the UN should not exclude Taiwan.
Some might ask what the logic is in holding a referendum about the actions of the UN? But if Taiwan wants to be a member of the world body, it not only needs to apply for membership, the UN also has to agree to let Taiwan in. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has said that even if a referendum on UN membership passes, it does not mean that Taiwan will be granted membership.
It is because the current referendum proposals are simply wishes that have little possibility of being fulfilled at present and the most important objective of holding a referendum on UN membership is to make Taiwan's voice heard to the world.
There are many advantages in replacing the current proposals with this new one. Within Taiwan, the new proposal could consolidate public opinion and let the world know that all of Taiwan opposes the country's international isolation. The DPP and the KMT proposals, on the other hand, only serve to divide the people.
Although the DPP has urged its supporters to vote on both referendums, it is still possible that neither referendum will reach the 50 percent turnout threshold and a majority of the votes necessary for it to pass.
The two referendums have already attracted international attention. If the referendum on applying for UN membership passes, it will incite reactions from China and the US that will be harmful to Taiwan. But if neither passes, the international community might misinterpret this as meaning that the Taiwanese are not interested in being a UN member, and this will also harm Taiwan's interests.
So it is very important to take note of the subtle differences in the third proposal. The DPP wants to apply for UN membership and KMT wants to return to the UN. This leads to suspicions in China and the US that Taiwan is trying to change the "status quo," and both countries have made serious threats against Taiwan.
Not only can Taiwan not enter or return to the UN, comments by US officials have seriously harmed Taiwan's standing. For example, US National Security Council senior Asian affairs advisor Dennis Wilder said last September: "Membership in the United Nations requires statehood. Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is not at this point a state in the international community."
The key feature of a new referendum proposal is to make Taiwan's protest against the current situation heard. By avoiding the sensitive issue of what course of action Taiwan should take, it will not pay too high a price. The proposal's logical discussion of human rights will maintain, and even expand, the effect of Taiwan making itself heard to the world.
Because the KMT referendum on returning to the UN is flexible on the name Taiwan should use, it might be less harmful to Taiwan, but the public relations impact on the international media would be much weaker than that of the new referendum. And the only realistic positive outcome of holding these referendums is letting the world know how Taiwan feels.
After its landslide victory in last month's legislative elections, the KMT proposed dropping the referendums in favor of a legislative resolution. This is the best way to handle the referendums.
But the DPP has insisted on going ahead with its referendum alongside next month's presidential election. Chen has even suggested calling for a defensive referendum.
Both the KMT and DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), however, have opposed that idea on the grounds that the law says the president may place national security matters before the public for decision in a referendum if the nation is exposed to an external threat, but this condition does not exist.
As it now stands, both referendums have completed the legal process to be put to a vote. If the DPP and KMT could agree on replacing their referendums with a less sensitive third proposal, it would require legislative action to be able to get the proposal before voters. Article 16 of the Referendum Act (
Article 18 of the act stipulates that the CEC must publish the specifics of the referendum 28 days before the referendum is to be held.
This means the DPP and KMT must make sure they pass a new proposal on Friday when the new legislature convenes and then transmit the new referendum proposal to the CEC, so that the commission can publish the required details. The current two referendums could then be reconsidered by the CEC and put aside.
Hsieh, who is open-minded enough to call on voters to support both parties' referendums, should be pleased with this idea. Chen, who called for a third proposal himself, should also welcome it. But the KMT has no plans to propose a third referendum.
I would like to remind the KMT that in its explanatory statement of its referendum proposal, it restated the party's position that Taiwan has priority and that the party wants to benefit Taiwan first and foremost.
The KMT also said that it wants to propose a referendum that would fulfill the wishes of the public, without harming Taiwan. If the KMT, which now has the advantage of an absolute majority in the legislature, would promote a replacement referendum as proposed in this article, it would make these words reality.
Cho Hui-wan is an associate professor of the Graduate Institute of International Politics at National Chung Hsing University.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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